3-D printed portable wheelchair ramps

I fully expect the future impact of 3d printing can be predicted by looking at 2d printing. The bright shining future where you would print your own newspapers, art and full books instead turned out to be useful for some occasional random crap, but otherwise expensive, prone to clogging and a general all around hassle.


My personal problem with promoting 3d printing more than other fab methods is that for every person it inspires, 10 see it and instead think “fuck, I don’t know how to use CAD / have access to a 3d printer, guess I’m shit out of luck” and give up thinking about solving problems. Low-tech hacks seem much better at encouraging widespread tinkering. Not many people who need those ramps are gonna see them and go “hey, I could do / improve on that”, but suppose they were made from cardboard and duct tape?

Saying 3d printing is the best (or even a good) way to liberate creativity seems to sidestep the issue of appropriate technology in a very lazy and privileged way.


Yep, whipping out a dimensioned sketch for a little ramp on a napkin in a minute and giving it to someone may not be as sexy as Thingaverse, but it’s somehow managed to work pretty well. Also, a saw, hammer and nails may not be “magical”, but they’re cheap, available, and for handsaws, don’t even require electricity. (3rd world, anyone?) Also, try patching a hole in a roof with a 3D printer sometime.

I’m all for people figuring out how to make things, but trying to attach a halo to doing it poorly, or wastefully doesn’t impress me. In a case like the fellow pictured, sure, I can see that using conventional tools would be difficult, and I’m happy that he has a useful tool that he made himself. It’s about as edge-case as you can get, though.


I’ll raise you, https://www.thingiverse.com/thing:9272

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The next episode of Portlandia looks at 3-D printing of items like bricks.

I think what’s interesting about this Make is not that he couldn’t have done it with wood or other materials, but that a handicapped person can crowdsource a useful item. Hopefully other wheelchair users will see the design and tinker around with it until it’s something really refined - basically AGILE method development opened up to the masses. Once the design gets perfected, anyone who needs it can print one out for probably WAY cheaper than a company that sells these mobility tools would and without going through insurance. Maybe someone needs to crowdsource crutches and walkers too?

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Zactly. When I got my first inkjet photo printer I totally geeked out, to the point of buying archival pigments and filling my own cartridges. But you know what? Uploading and having them printed by Costco, Target or Walmart is cheaper, with much less hassle and better results. Now I have a cheap workhorse HP B&W laser on my desk.

Anyone who makes things that aren’t “objects de art” recognizes that appropriate materials and methods are central to the process. You don’t spec something to be forged out of titanium when it can be cut from a sheet of aluminum. Almost everything I build starts as a 3D drawing, but with rare exceptions for unusual jobs, I design it to be made within the capabilities of my workshop. Now, I eat some of my words, since in the context of the disabled “maker” of these, this was what he was able to make in his “shop”.

I could design some fabulous organic shape that could only be printed, or even a complex part that needed CNC milling, but I design for my manual lathe and mill. For that reason, every time I’ve compared doing it myself to having it printed, printing has made no sense financially. If I was still in the advertising model making game, I’d be singing a different tune, but those aren’t utilitarian objects, they’re closer to “objects de art”.

actually some hours from now.

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3D printed “glide caps” to replace the ubiquitous tennis balls?


You can’t simply dismiss technologies by lumping them together like that - it’s a false equivalence. 2D printing and 3D printing are very different, and meet completely different needs. Why did 2D printers become less useful over the last 10-15 years? Well first we stopped needing to print documents to share them, since they could easily be emailed or shared on the cloud. Why did we stop printing photos? Because digital media and online archiving with photo sites and cloud storage made that redundant for archival purposes, and for viewing pictures phones/tablets/connected TVs server that purpose much better. Why do we not print newspapers or magazines - nor did we really ever? Well it was too expensive at first, and then later tablets, ereaders and the ubiquitous availability of the Internet and connected devices made printed material largely unnecessary.

The difference with all the above? It’s information that we’re sharing, storing and using. 3D printers make things. Until we are no longer corporeal beings, we will need things.

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Look closely: it’s not just a wedge, the top of the ramps have a diamond pattern for extra traction. They’re also hollow for reduced weight.

Obviously there are other ways to build something like this than 3D printing but that doesn’t make it “ridiculous”.

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My personal problem with promoting printers more than pencils is that for every person it inspires, 10 see it and instead think “fuck, I don’t know how to use a computer, guess I’m shit out of luck” and give up thinking about drawing things. Low-tech hacks seem much better at encouraging widespread tinkering. Not many people who need those printouts are gonna see them and go “hey, I could do / improve on that”, but suppose they drew it with a pencil?

Just look at that guy, rolling over curbs like he owns the place with the ramps he made by himself despite the fact that he has limited physical mobility and probably doesn’t own a woodshop. Vanity, thy name is Nanonan!


My argument is not that they became less useful. It was that the home consumer hardware was never as useful as they hype and projections of the future because it technically just never ended up being very good, particularly compared to professional printing. Decreasing demand for print items due to email/tablets whatever was not my point.

As for lumping them together, I think it is fair. It is still just crap coming out of a nozzle scanning back and forth, a technology that seems to have plateaued in the 2d market as I have described. Somehow adding a third axis and a material that must undergo a controlled phase change with a precise extrusion rate doesn’t make me MORE confident in the technology.

Sure, laser sintering etc etc. Still: moving parts, have to feed raw materials, have to feed multiple materials if you want to make something complicated.

Maybe it works out, but what I see is a future filled with dusty 3d printers and the occasional bespoke printed spoon in a drawer full of cutlery from IKEA.

well, just generally speaking, but you seem to be an ass.

Well you generally seem to have a problem expressing yourself or adding anything meaningful at all to the discussion. Am I an ass for poo-pooing 3d printing, or doing it in the insensitive context of the disabled designer? I’ve already mea culpa’d the latter, but you probably didn’t read that far.

your response seemed remarkable, so I did.

You see a future where people are designing plastic forks as a fad, and buying everything else from Ikea. I see a future where kids are designing parts to supplement their Mindstorms and Raspberry Pi projects, creating pieces for their own board games and puzzles, and making mathematically inspired artistic sculptures. I’d rather live in my version.

childish insults? really?

I’m trying to figure out which is more ironic. That your two descriptions of the “future” are in no way mutually exclusive, or that you have just accurately described the present.

I think the uses you described for 3d printing are right on the mark (and are why I would love to own a 3d printer). But again, parallels with 2d printing: sure you can print up your own set of Cards Against Humanity, but there is a reason a stores still sell a lot of sets of CAH or Catan or Pokemon Cards or what have you.

My argument is that people who think that 3d printing is going to be a good way to produce a substantial fraction of their manufactured goods seriously underestimate the power of injection molding and stamping things out of sheet metal at high speed and underestimate the hassles of printing.


I would even go so far as to qualify that with “for the foreseeable future”. I’d love to have me a matter compiler like in Diamond Age. But one of the fascinating ideas in the book was that for people who could print anything, there was still tremendous value in the unique handcrafted, making it sort of a reversal of the printed “object de art” values being espoused by some here. You can go down the rabbit hole with works like that 3d printed stair climbing animation. It was like one of those Modern minimalist paintings that without the title meant nothing at all.