View Full Version : Using a 3D printer to produce replacement parts for vintage computers

November 5th, 2011, 12:04 PM
It's funny how 3D printers are now becoming affordable to hobbyists in the form of DIY homebrew kits, such as the the RepRap and the MakerBot Cupcake CNC. It's just so reminiscent of building an Altair back in the early homebrew computing era. (Even though that was before my time.) :)

The MakerBot can be seen in action in this interview with the CEO of MakerBot Industries on the Colbert Report: http://www.colbertnation.com/the-colbert-report-videos/388966/june-08-2011/bre-pettis

According to that interview, objects printed with such a 3D printer are pretty sturdy ("the same material that lego is made out of"), and the printing resolution is less than a third of a (cubic?) millimeter, which seems pretty good to me.

With such sturdiness and precision, I believe that a DIY 3D printer could be able (or with the rate of development should really soon become able) to print certain replacement parts for vintage computers that could otherwise not be obtained (easily). I'm thinking of missing or broken keys, buttons, knobs, and lids, but perhaps also even complete replacements for cracked casings and such.

How feasible do you think 3D printing would be for repairing and maintaining vintage hardware? And would it perhaps also be an idea to create an open source database of commonly required replacement parts that cannot be obtained through other means? Having helpful forum users "saving" the shapes of still intact components with a 3D scanner (which can easily be done with a webcam and the right software), and sharing them with people who need to print them as replacements? And could that perhaps pose certain legal problems? And why would something like that be illegal if the original manufacturer wasn't selling and making money on such replacement parts anyway? It's funny how old questions that have always applied to the software world now suddenly begin to apply to the hardware world as well. :)

I'm sure I'm not the first person in this forum to have toyed with this idea, right? Any thoughts or experiences?

November 7th, 2011, 07:45 AM
For people that USE their machines, I'm sure that 3d "printings" would be great, however for those looking for all-original, museum pieces, they'd want the authentic parts.

Speaking solely for myself, I'd be happy with certain non-authentic pieces, however for the majority of my items, I'd prefer original parts. At least for the cosmetic outside (internals are another matter).

That said, a MakerBot has been something my Dad and I have talked about for a few years (he runs a welding shop, and often has to fabricate obscure parts to make something work). We've just never gotten around to actually doing something about acquiring or building one... Trying to offset the cost/learning curve with the actual need.

November 7th, 2011, 08:11 AM
The idea sounds very appealing. I like the idea of archiving physical parts into a database, which can be replicated at will.. how pricey are the 3d printers right now?
I've thought about this type of thing on the internal side a few times - archiving/replicating vintage circuit board designs, which proves tricky because of all the custom chips which are hard/impossible to get.
With replicating computer keys and such there will still be the issue of springs or other parts with some special function like conductive pads, but I think it's very promising.

November 10th, 2011, 09:26 AM
There are other ways to copy parts. If you are lucky to live near enough to a FAB LAB


most have a 3-d printer, laser cutter (small) and roland milling machine. The roland:


has a scanning head and can copy parts with a flat side. For things like cases laser cutting can be better.

November 10th, 2011, 10:31 AM
techshop.ws is another such facility in the US.

November 12th, 2011, 04:23 AM
some hackerspaces have such tools


January 2nd, 2012, 04:30 PM
I have a gap in my PS/2 Model 25 from a missing drive bay, I'd love to cover it up with a matching drive bay front piece, 3D printed..