When I was a kid my dad owned a 1958 Triumph that was always one pothole bump or one rainy day short-circuit away from being disabled. It would repeatedly and predictably break down. He would take great pride in going to the junkyard with a screwdriver or a wrench and wrestle the required replacement part from some skeleton of a wreck. Perhaps using a torque wrench for accuracy would have allowed the parts to come loose from the vehicles much more easily but he made the best of what he had. Many of these salvage yards are long gone as the era of DIY mechanic is passing and the modern nature of automobile design has made salvage parts less viable. Why search out a specific part if you can download the specs and print it?

3D Printing: An Endless Source of Spare Parts

Perhaps 3D printing is the logical substitute for acres upon acres of salvageable spare parts. It seems only logical that I should be able to use my home 3D printer to create a replacement for the broken turn signal arm for that 1958 Triumph. Acknowledging that the auto graveyard is a bygone commodity, I do think that there are a number of other spare parts that can and will be printed at home. Over the years, I personally have ordered many replacement parts for refrigerator shelves, washing machine legs and any number of other worn or broken items around the house. If given the option I would gladly have downloaded the file and printed spare parts on my own. Without having to even factor in shipping costs or time, this solution beats the glorious free 2-day shipping from Amazon Prime that we’ve all come to expect.

3D Printing is Out of this World

Just as you and I need spare parts, astronauts working on the International Space Station (ISS) have the same needs. Perhaps theirs are a little more high-tech than a washing machine leg, but you get the idea. They are hoping to utilize lunar or Martian dust combined with water and a binding agent to print buildings, structures and spare parts on site. Metal 3D printing is also on the table. This would eliminate the need for transporting large items via space travel. Can you even imagine what the shipping costs would be?

There’s no doubt that 3D printing in manufacturing has come a long way since it was first developed in the 1980s as a rapid prototyping technique – what are your thoughts on the many uses we keep finding for 3D printing?


  1. Agreed that there are many uses for 3D printing but it raises questions. For example, how do you get all the necessary material characteristics with one 3D printer and material? Wiperblades are an example as both rigid and flexible components are required. And how to get the necessary precision and strength characteristics to print for example engine parts such as a crankshaft? Maybe that example is a bit extreme. One thing that continues to impress me are the Youtube videos of n-axis CNC milling machines.

    Times have changed for certain. Forays to salvage yards and auto-parts stores have been replaced by online ordering of new/rebuilt parts (e.g. Advance, RockAuto) as well as used parts (e.g. ebay). You said “modern nature of automobile design has made salvage parts less viable” I would venture that auto parts recycling is still just as alive and well as ever, it’s just become much more systematized and gets much less demand from DIYers than wholesale suppliers/rebuilders and auto repair shops.