The utopian vision of 3-D printing and communal knowledge sharing came true this week, in one small instance. For years I’ve loved the idea of 3-D printing a replacement component when some plastic bit snaps in a machine I’m using. Especially when the manufacturer doesn’t sell that widget and intends for you to junk and replace the whole thing. But in practice, I’ve not found myself in a situation where that would be viable…
Until this week. Last year my mother upgraded her food processor and handed me down her previous model, a Cuisinart DFP-14 (DFP-14BCN to be precise). The machine had seen years of hard work and at last, the little plastic interlock piece at the nexus of the complicated safety mechanism broke.
I spent maybe 90 minutes last weekend trying to fix it. This involved cutting a reinforcement plate out of scrap plastic, epoxying it on, and mounting it with a machine screw (part of the plastic housing had shattered, too). I had tried my best but it was not going to last. Here’s the kludge fix at the point where I called it quits:
(This should all be unnecessary: I would prefer to purchase a replacement part. But Cuisinart does not sell a replacement for this plastic bit. Symptomatic of our disposable consumer culture, and terrible corporate behavior. They could make a few bucks on such a part and keep machines out of the landfill, but they don’t. An ideal manufacturer would not only sell replacement parts but make public their 3D models. We are a long way from that but there’s hope: France passed and is implementing a law under which certain categories of devices must publish their repair scores. Including smartphones and washing machines. As someone who once replaced a washing machine clutch by mimicking YouTube videos step-by-step, I find this very exciting.)
Since I was modifying the machine, my idea was to leave it better than it started, by overriding a safety mechanism. Steampunk Workshop’s blog post describes this behavior well; in short, like him, I wanted to go back to the prior generation of machines where you can operate it while the feeding chute is open. Thus my machine screw and nuts, which I thought might keep the plastic fin depressed and engaging the safety at all times.
When I realized my fix wouldn’t take, I considered 3-D printing. I’ve never designed anything 3-D and don’t know how to use a 3-D printer, but I have acquaintances who are experts. Maybe someone has already designed this widget? I searched, and indeed they had! I found this piece on the Thingiverse, which had a link back to that Steampunk Workshop blog post (he designed this item).
I posted a call for help printing on my local Mastodon instance (a2mi.social) and Tim Saucer came to my rescue. He took a look, predicted that the tunnel for the mounting pin would not print correctly, and guessed that it wouldn’t be a problem. He was right on both counts: the tunnel has an open seam along the end, but it’s sufficiently closed to grip the pin anyway. Tim printed the bit, I picked it up, and the machine now works perfectly. Here’s the same shot as above, but with the replacement part:
Actually, it works better than before: thanks to the design, it now operates without the feeding chute insert assembly in place. Here it is in action:
This new feature is especially good because that feeding chute insert assembly is itself cracking and might fail soon. When it does, maybe I’ll try to design a replacement and print it. That replacement process would be much more forgiving now that it doesn’t have to engage a safety interlock.
The bowl and lid themselves appear to be in good shape, so this fix might buy me additional years of use.
For others in a similar situation: this piece was right for my machine, whose lid model is DFP-14WBC, but there were several interlock widget replacements on Thingiverse for other models. This is a more true-to-original replacement for a DFP-14; just last week one was uploaded for the 10-cup DLC-10; and there’s one for the DLC 2011. Clearly, this an idea others have had, and I’m fortunate I could walk the path they cleared.
Learning to use a 3-D printer would be fun, but for now I’m grateful to have a network of caring humans in Ann Arbor who are willing to share their tools and expertise. And I appreciate that strangers across the world who tackle problems like these take the time to share their inventions. The internet and modern tech are so often a disappointment, but in this case they lived up to their potential.