The printer I have is a Qidi Tech 1, which I picked up for $700. It’s essentially one of the many replicas of the Makerbot Replicator 2. It does have a couple of modifications though. I have upgraded the print bed to a PEI (polyetherimide) material to improve print adhesion. In addition, I have a Raspberry Pi running OctoPi controlling the printer. It’s connected to the internet which allows me remote control and monitoring of the printer. I even have a camera connected to the Pi, so I can spy on my print progress from anywhere in the world.

Most people who buy 3D printers never actually design their own parts, instead, they mostly print things they find on Thingiverse (a massive user populated online repository of different objects that you can print). However, if you really want to use the full potential of your 3D printer, you must learn how to CAD. This seems to scare a lot of people, but it’s really not that difficult at all. There are tons of free tutorials to get you started, and you can be designing parts with just a couple of hours' worth of practice. I would know, because that’s how I learned.


See that mess of hoses and wires dangling in front of the valve cover? We’re going to design a clip that holds it all in place.

Let’s actually go through the process of designing and printing a custom part. We’re going to start with something very simple- a clip.


The first step is to whip out your calipers and take measurements. I measured the outside diameter of the vacuum hose, the wiring loom, and the coolant hose for the swirl pot. I already know the mounting holes on the valve cover to be an M6, but I needed to measure the distance from the hole to the edge of the valve cover, to know how much clearance I had. Now, we open up the computer.


I use Solidworks 2017 for CAD, which isn’t exactly cheap. However, there are plenty of great alternatives. If you’re starting out, I’d recommend AutoDesk Fusion360, which is free.

I started out by making a sketch of the clip using all the measurements I took. This is where knowing your 3D printer is very helpful. As you can see, I already knew I had to make that M6 hole into 6.25mm to compensate.


I then extruded the whole contour, split it in half, and added snap hooks. One thing to note, as you can see, I added fillets to round off the edges on the top and bottom, but not on the sides. This is for a very good reason. I planned for the part to be printed on its side, so having the part be completely flat on the side it’s being printed avoids overhangs. Just like with any manufacturing process, you have to think about how the part will be made when you’re designing it.


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Tuesday, July 4, 2017 11:03 AM
One of the best applications for 3D printing in the world of automotive performance tuning is the ability to 3D print electrical connectors.

One of the bigger hurdles to installing an after-market ECU into a modern street car are the bigass electrical connectors that plug the harness into the ECU. These are usually "harvested" from an OEM ECU which is an expensive and wasteful process. It is much better to 3D print fresh connectors. Once the dimensions are dialed in you can get as many as you need and they work every bit as well as the OEM units.

An enterprising fellow named Brandon Vazquez has done exactly that for the V6 version of the Hyundai Genesis Coupe. It has really helped open up tuning possibilities for that car. There is now the possibility of plug-and-play compatibility for both the Haltech Elite 2500 ECU as well as the MoTeC M150 on the Genesis Coupe platform.

The 3D-printed harness connectors look great and work brilliantly. I think this is an area where 3D printing is going to see drastically increased use in the future.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017 12:30 AM
Great article. There are exciting things happening in the maker and open source movements that car people should start using. Glad to see an article on 3D printing.
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Wednesday, July 5, 2017 9:05 AM
Another fun thing is what happens when you apply investment casting to 3d printed objects. Working on semi-productionizing a few things, heh heh heh.
Wednesday, July 5, 2017 12:51 PM
I'll buy one in a few years when they get much cheaper
Thursday, July 6, 2017 10:21 AM
No need to buy a 3D printer when websites like Shapeways.com exist!
I use it right now to make a custom intake tube on a Boxster.
Thursday, July 6, 2017 1:37 PM
3D printing is becoming common in the OEM world for prototyping. My day job just picked up a high end 3D printer and we are using it to test out ECU packaging ideas. It gives us a chance to test fit our parts before we make an investment in actual casting and stamping dies. It really saves cost and shortens development time. We are also using our 3D printer for building programming fixtures for prototype ECUs. We used to have to machine them from Delrin which was expensive and time consuming. Now we just 3D print them in a few hours.

We are not planning to use 3D printing for mass production anytime soon, but for test fitting, prototyping, and software development, 3D printing is a HUGE cost and time saver.
Thursday, July 6, 2017 1:46 PM
PLA would be perfect for Lost Wax-style casting if you need an aluminum part.

Dan DeRosia
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Friday, July 7, 2017 7:21 AM
http://i.imgur.com/CDH8D8o.jpg <-- PLA *is* about perfect for lost-wax style casting. I did that for a secret santa last year with my homebrew foundry. I'm trying to go from 3d printed patterns to using the 3d printed piece to make a silicone female mold that I can pour wax into, to get away from having to 3d print one copy per copy.
Friday, July 7, 2017 8:29 AM
I don't know how much more affordable they can get. You can find good quality turn key printers that can print smaller objects (like shown in the article) for around $100 now. There are DIY printers that have a print volume of 12"x12"x12" for around $500 that, when set-up, put to shame most big name consumer printers costing four times as much.
I have unlimited access to a Makerbot 5th Gen with all the latest parts and updates, but my personally owned FT-5 gets all of our attention because it just flat out does a better job.
Friday, July 7, 2017 10:31 AM
I think you are going to find your harness brackets are going to melt. PLA and ABS do not do well with heat.

Don't get too excited, the structural integrity of 3D printed parts not at the same level as an injection molded plastic part. Printed plastic parts are excellent for prototype test fitment and low stress/cosmetic parts. But I would never use one for structural purposes.
Friday, July 7, 2017 11:11 AM
I printed a throttle body adapter from polycarbonate abs that currently lives on my miata. Granted a throttle body shouldnt get as hot as the timing chain cover it still heat soaks and gets pretty damn hot. so far so good.
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Friday, March 16, 2018 11:15 PM
If I say 3D printer brings revolution in the market it will be not wrong. It is used in almost every field. Even restaurant are using 3d printer technique to decorate food items.
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Tuesday, June 19, 2018 10:44 AM
Using computing for the design process, 3D printing typically refers to making three-dimensional solid objects by layering materials on top of one another. Some may use it during the planning stage, others may use it to develop tools, or architecture and design features - however it's implemented 3D printers have come in handy for a lot of companies.

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3D printers — machines that use an additive manufacturing process to create objects using 3D designs — have been seeping out of the "maker" niche into the mainstream consciousness this year. They are becoming more affordable and easier to use.

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This is a nice post. 3D printing is becoming common in the OEM world for prototyping. My day job just picked up a high end 3D printer and we are using it to test out ECU packaging ideas. It gives us a chance to test fit our parts before we make an investment in actual casting and stamping dies. Thanks!!
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