In October 2022, QST magazine did a wonderful issue featuring ham radio 3D printing. Make sure you take a look.
Hats off to Pascal Villeneuve VA2PV. Our ARRL Product Reviews editor organized a unique approach to exposing more hams to 3D printing. His approach included three product reviews of popular 3D printers.
But these reviews were really special. First, they featured information about product specifications, which is normal for the reviews. But second, each included information about how they work, particularly in the ham context. And third, stories about things hams can build with these tools. You will also find a short introduction to 3D printers in general.
Much of the ham radio 3D printing issue considered printing as a “parallel hobby” for hams. Fair enough. That’s how I started out.
But the underlying theme was about using these printers as another “tool” on the workbench, which is where I am today. I no longer play with 3D printing as an end in itself. Rather, I find these a another tool, often a very important tool, for my projects.
If you check the history, fused deposition modeling (3D printing with plastic filament) came to life in 1989. When patents expired twenty years later, many entrepreneurs started producing low-cost printers, often in kit form. I bought my first one in 2015.
Ham Radio 3D Printing – A Tool You Can Use
Over the past few years, prices have plummeted and accuracy improved. You will find 3D printers are now fairly user friendly.
But the vision of a 3D printer in every home (or shack) has faded. You will find the consumer market penetration sits at 5-10% of households. Mostly these are used for printing technical components by hobbyists, some art, replacing small parts, and as a great learning tool for kids.
Bottom line – hams will find a 3D printer as a great tool for the workbench if they are into building stuff. Otherwise, who really has time for yet another hobby?