# What Do You Think About 3D Printing

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#### jqavins

##### Joseph Avins
TRF Supporter
In another thread, a couple of frequent posters here who shall remain nameless unless they out themselves, expressed the opinion that while 3D printing is a useful and powerful method for otherwise nigh-unsolvable problems, it is also becoming too common and a crutch in our hobby. To be fair, they acknowledge that "too much" is subjective and the statement expresses only their feelings.

One person's crutch is just one more tool in another person's box. It depends greatly on what one wants to get out of building rockets. You seem very much to enjoy the meticulous crafting process, and I can see where 3D printing would seem like a cheat. I enjoy taking a design idea and making it real by whatever means seem best suited considering expense, weight, build difficulty, and other factors. So I'd naturally be a lot happier with lots of 3D printing than you, when there's not a clearly better alternative.
So where do others stand?

#### neil_w

##### Hunkered down
TRF Supporter
Beat me to it, I was going to start this thread.

Disclaimer: this is all *purely* personal feelings and preferences.

I love/hate 3D printing. For some uses it is fantastic, e.g.: ebay sleds, sometimes nose cones, weird internal structural parts, tools and jigs. For some uses I'm *probably* a fan: small weird parts for scale modes. For others, it makes me uneasy: fin cans, whole rockets.

A fully 3D printed rocket feels to me like an RTF, which is totally unfair because there's potentially a *lot* of work that goes into the CAD and printing end of things. In fact, mostly it's a transfer of effort from fabrication into design, although it seems like the actual printing can take some effort as well. Is a crafted-out-of-wood part any more valuable or valid than a 3D-printed part? And who am I to say which aspects of rocketry are more important or valid than others in the first place? No one, that's who.

And yet I cannot shake the unease. Is it just because *I* don't want to build whole rockets like that? Do I fear that the hobby is going to move more in a direction that devalues traditional craftsmanship? I don't know, and that makes me even more frustrated.

Today's random thoughts.

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#### jqavins

##### Joseph Avins
TRF Supporter
I also don't like the idea of whole rockets or simple fin cans 3D printed for myself, only because they're heavier than "traditional" construction and not really much easier, even for me, the king klutz.

Does it make things rather like RTF (or E2X) rockets? Sure, I guess. If I could sent a RockSim file off to a service and get back an RTF rocket or E2X kit I'd probably do that sometimes. As I wrote above, I like seeing my designs become real and fly, and I care a little but only a little about what comes in between. I don't bother with E2X kits because there's neither the moderate fun of building nor the greater fun of designing, so they posses neither good part.

Is there a chance that the hobby will go so far this way that more traditional parts and materials will become difficult to find? I agree 100% that that would be a problem!

I have a feeling that whole 3D printed rockets will not last. I totally get the desire to see how far 3D printing can go, and ending up printing a whole rocket; I suspect there will soon be a consensus around "OK, done that". (Of course, there've been lots of things that lots of people thought were just fads and are still around.)

I shall now wait for responses from from other people before writing again (otherwise you and I might as well have had a private conversation).

#### cwbullet

##### Obsessed with Rocketry
Staff member
Global Mod
I have started to revert back to many non-3D printed parts. I love my printers but they have their limitations.

I do like them for jigs and tools because they allow me to get my holes dead on.

#### boatgeek

##### Well-Known Member
Any hobby has probably had these discussions since the beginning of time. Are those newfangled APCP motors ruining rocketry? Is the focus on designs that look cool vs. optimized designs ruining rocket-boosted gliders? And let's not talk about TVC.

I love the detail and craftsmanship that Neil and others put into scale or steampunk models, and the beautiful paint that a number of people turn out. That, on the other hand, isn't me. I've used 3-D printed parts as nose cones, jigs, and AV bays, so I'm not a total stranger to the idea. I'm not sure it will ever be the road for me, largely because I don't have the space for a 3-D printer or time to really get it working right. So I'll borrow printer time for objects where it's important and use other methods for other things.

3-D printing opens up a lot of design spaces. I see your point that it moves more of the skill from fabricating to design, but I'm not sure that's a bad thing. I'm also not sure we (as a collective hobby) have explored the design space to figure out where it makes sense and where it doesn't (see, for example, CW's comment above). Lots of things seemed like a good idea and then turned out not to last. Finally, I don't think the "it's too heavy" argument really holds with me. Sure, it makes sense if you're brushing 1500g because staying under FAR 101 tends to open up more fields than heavier rockets. On the other hand, the cost of extra N-s is pretty small*. Most of us aren't building optimized rockets anyway.

* In a similar vein, when ships were limited by how much horsepower was reasonable available, they were beautiful, slender, and streamlined. Now that you can go out and buy up to a 110,000-hp engine off the shelf, there's a much more complicated tradeoff between revenue-generating space, desired ship speeds, fuel costs, etc. In my industry (fishing boats), that's led to big boxy beasts.

#### neil_w

##### Hunkered down
TRF Supporter
Any hobby has probably had these discussions since the beginning of time. Are those newfangled APCP motors ruining rocketry? Is the focus on designs that look cool vs. optimized designs ruining rocket-boosted gliders? And let's not talk about TVC.
Not just rocketry, pretty much any human activity. Automatic transmissions anyone?

* In a similar vein, when ships were limited by how much horsepower was reasonable available, they were beautiful, slender, and streamlined. Now that you can go out and buy up to a 110,000-hp engine off the shelf, there's a much more complicated tradeoff between revenue-generating space, desired ship speeds, fuel costs, etc. In my industry (fishing boats), that's led to big boxy beasts.
Another good parallel is computer programming: as resources become cheaper (e.g., machines with many GB of RAM and fast processors), higher-level programming techniques are used which make things "easier" for the programmers but would not have been practical in the old days.

In fact, now that I think about it, my griping above seems a bit like an old curmudgeon who thinks real programmers should only program in assembly language, an attitude that I have never agreed with. High level programming tools are essential for productivity.

I suppose it really comes down to one's own objectives, as Joe said. If the primary goal is the end product, then 3D printing can be a godsend. In my case I'm more interested the process, and therefore am uncomfortable with steps that bypass too much of the process.

Bottom line: I shouldn't care at all how other people build their rockets. And yet I can't seem to help my gut emotional reactions.

P.S. When I've designed my own 3D-printed parts (printed by a service, I don't have a printer), I find it to be really fun. So I'm not even consistent in my own feelings.

#### boatgeek

##### Well-Known Member
Bottom line: I shouldn't care at all how other people build their rockets. And yet I can't seem to help my gut emotional reactions.
By god, look at how people I've never met in a state I've never been to are screwing up the design and build of their rockets! And the worst part is that THEY'RE ENJOYING THEMSELVES! (yeah, I've done that, though not as often in rocketry)

#### neil_w

##### Hunkered down
TRF Supporter
I do like them for jigs and tools because they allow me to get my holes dead on.
Absolutely.

#### kuririn

##### BARGeezer
TRF Supporter
Over the years I have ameliorated my position from "where's the craftsmanship in that?" to "it's a useful adjunct".
I personally don't derive any satisfaction in gluing an all 3D printed build together, good looks aside.
But RTF and E2X, whether with 3D printed parts or injection molded plastic, is a part of this hobby and will remain so.
I find great value in being able to clone builds that were previously uncloneable due to 3D printed parts.
A big part in my change of thinking were the builders kits offered by Boyce Aerospace.
Craftsmanship still required, but with great scale detail as well.

#### dr wogz

##### Fly caster
love\hate..

more & more people are getting them, they are coming down in price, so they are becoming affordable & available. But, many non engineering types get one, thinking they'll be able to replace everyday mundane things. They think they'll be able to download a file for a kitchen faucet, then print it out, and it'll be in the house longer than ..

I remember talking to one friend, who was genuinely curious about it. He & a friend had a plan: they were gonna get one, then walk & up & down a popular 'bar street' in Montreal, and offer to do customized shot glasses for the various interested bars.. "To get the business, and stop it [marketing shot glasses] being sent out to China!"

When I told him the typical shot glass would be an hour or two to print, and that you'd need proper FDA approved filaments, and then need to design & revised the files for said glass, and.... He soon got the point that it cannot [yet] replace tried & true mass manufacturing practices..

Now, for me, they are great for prototyping & developing designs & sharing them with non engineering types: "The new widget will look like this.." "We've tried the new widget in-situ. it works, but the assembler asked if we can add a hole here to allow for better alignment.."

As for rocketry: Jigs & nosecones are prime uses. Other parts, not so much. I find the first response is "I 3D printed this", which is soon proven to be really no better than traditional rocket building. Yeah, you printed out 4 trapezoidal shaped 1/4" plates. 2 hrs per print; 8 hrs total, not including the design time & printer set up. (I cut 4 from plywood, in about 2 hours for all 4..)

Fins, CRs, a few other things would be better if cut from 'traditional' materials with a laser cutter. I, personalty, would rather have a laser cutter than a 3D printer!

Save the 3D printer stuff for the "really hard to replicate from traditional methods" items to printing out some cool 'thing'. That's about it. Thinking you have the same weight / structure / material strength from ABS [PLA!!] FFF printers vs. our traditional G10 / 7-layer birch ply / wrapped paper & phenolic resin / etc. is just wrong..

#### swatkat

##### Down these mean skies, a kat must fly!
I'm in the "mixed" camp. Good for the custom parts, off sized, etc. Also great for doo-dads like nylon retainers and rail buttons. Great for sleds. I won't do fins/tubes, etc. tho.

#### mrwalsh85

##### Well-Known Member
And yet I cannot shake the unease. Is it just because *I* don't want to build whole rockets like that? Do I fear that the hobby is going to move more in a direction that devalues traditional craftsmanship? I don't know, and that makes me even more frustrated.
We are already there. FWFG airframes and nosecones have basically enabled anyone to go Mach2 with their first (ok, second, after getting L1 launch..).

A club friend has been pushing the FG kit agenda harder than ever, having learned that they are much more commonplace than they were when he got out of the hobby 10+ years ago - he just rejoined the hobby a year or two ago. He was encouraging someone who was excited having just picked up a Cardboard/plywood kit to ignore that kit and get a FG kit.

#### neil_w

##### Hunkered down
TRF Supporter
3D printed rockets, however...they have no soul.
Maybe that's the feeling I'm having.

#### jqavins

##### Joseph Avins
TRF Supporter
In fact, now that I think about it, my griping above seems a bit like an old curmudgeon who thinks real programmers should only program in assembly language.
This is not quite the version I remember.

(I remember one which said that real programmers do use Fortran, as well as assembler. As for not using those other HLLs: if they have to, it said, "Real programmers can write Fortran programs in any language.")

#### neil_w

##### Hunkered down
TRF Supporter

"Real programmers can write Fortran programs in any language."
Now *that* is funny.

#### o1d_dude

##### 'I battle gravity'
Cobol and Fortran in the early 1970’s.

Punch card decks, KSR33’s, etc.

My first ”PC”...

#### mpitfield

##### Moderator
Staff member
Global Mod
I think any way a rocketeer wants to approach the hobby, so long as it is not dangerous, is up to them. For me personally I see a happy medium with my consumer grade 3D printers. I now prefer to print sleds, as well as tool holders, storage and transport cases, jigs etc.

#### jqavins

##### Joseph Avins
TRF Supporter
I agree on the laser cutter being my preference, and it may be demonstrably superior, for flat pieces like fins, CRs, and bulkheads. When this discussion started (in that other thread) we were discussing a really odd shape for a nose cone - a star cross section pyramid-like thing. Now someone could carve that from balsa. Maybe, maybe even I could after two or three failures. But I wouldn't. I'd never build that rocket without 3D printing the nose. Honestly, I'll probably never build that one anyway, but I would also never have built my elliptical cross section rocket either, and that one flew.

And even a simple ogive nose cone in a size I can't just order, I'd be unlikely to make by band, but would print in a (few thousand) heartbeat(s).

##### Lonewolf.... No Club
TRF Supporter
I used to love building 1:24 plastic scale models: Cars, Semi tractors and trailers, etc.

Then ready built die cast metal model cars pretty much wiped out the hobby.

That's how I view 3D printers as they relate to Model Rocketry.

#### mbeels

##### Putting the tree in rocketry
TRF Supporter
Those analogies remind me of one of my other hobbies, amateur radio. It has a long history of evolution.

1) Early days of Spark Gap transmitters: "MWRAAAGH, those newfangled narrow-band continuous wave transmission will ruin radio! Real men have transmissions 100s of MHz wide! GRRRRR!"

2) CW (morse code) becomes standard: "Those fancy phone people are going to ruin radio! AM has no place on the air!"

3) AM phone is adopted: "SSB will never get popular, no one wants to sound nasally, AM will live forever! SSB is for chipmunks and Daffy Duck!"

4) SSB becomes the de-factor standard: "Digital modes will ruin the hobby! Computers have no place next to amateur radio!"

And now amateur radio is satellite operations, digital modes, software defined radio, and merging with the "maker" movement. It has come a long way. To those who remember vacuum tubes fondly, it doesn't seem like the same hobby anymore, but I still believe it thrives on the art and science of communication. There are aspects of the hobby for those that like to "create", and those that prefer to just "do".

That said, I share many of same reactions to 3D printing as neil_w. I see 3D printing as a useful tool for rapid prototyping, especially for complex or hard to make parts. But from a materials standpoint, it seems less than ideal in its properties (although I accept that it "works"). And from a hobby perspective, it replaces the aspects of this activity that I enjoy (making things with my hands), and replaces them with things that I don't like (waiting for a machine to do something for me).

So I'm also probably a bit of a curmudgeon, but I'll hang on to my X-acto knives, razor saws, sandpaper and continue working with wood and cardboard because that is what I enjoy.

In my case I'm more interested the process, and therefore am uncomfortable with steps that bypass too much of the process.
100% me as well.

#### jbuscaglia

##### Rusty-eyed Missile Man
I don't see any difference between a 3-D printed part and a similar injection molded or blow molded one. As the commercial used to say, "Parts is parts".

I don't think 3-D printing will replace traditional manufacturing techniques for mass production (e.g., Estes) any time soon, but for smaller manufacturers, it might be more cost effective to print 100 nose cones rather than buy 10,000 injection-molded ones. Plus, you're not stuck having to use the same part in every kit you sell.

#### neil_w

##### Hunkered down
TRF Supporter
I don't see any difference between a 3-D printed part and a similar injection molded or blow molded one. As the commercial used to say, "Parts is parts".
The difference is that molded parts aren't generally a DIY thing. But I feel the same way about about excessive use of molded parts in a kit.

I don't think 3-D printing will replace traditional manufacturing techniques for mass production (e.g., Estes) any time soon, but for smaller manufacturers, it might be more cost effective to print 100 nose cones rather than buy 10,000 injection-molded ones. Plus, you're not stuck having to use the same part in every kit you sell.
Agree with this 100%. Already 3D-printed nose cones are becoming pretty common in kits. I have no problem with that.

#### OverTheTop

##### Well-Known Member
3D printing is great. It is a useful method of getting parts that are complex and can't be made any other way sometimes. It is one method of achieving a goal, not the only method. If it is suitable for parts, or perhaps a whole rocket (I am not really sold on that idea yet), then use it if you have the wherewithal. It does need to have appropriate design considerations applied for it to be suitable and safe.

It has revolutionised the production of jigs to assist with accuracy and assembly of other parts.

I started running a 3D printed NC on my 4" rocket back in 2014 or 2015. I remember people looking at me like I was nuts. That same NC is still happily flying, so I have proved them wrong!

#### Cl(VII)

##### Chris Bender, Lab Rat
So, yeah, I’m a fan. Even I believe that the parts made with them have their place...just because you have a really nice hammer, doesn’t make everything a nail.

#### Steven

It's worked great for parts for my 1/48th scale Saturn V.

#### BruceS

##### Would you like a jelly baby?
TRF Supporter
I see 3d printing as a useful tool for specific needs. Case in point, my Polaris. To match the source image I needed to make three sets of landing gear and 8 engine nozzles. The wood landing struts came out fine. I tried to make the dummy engine nozzles on my lathe, but getting 8 identical was beyond my current skill and equipment. Drawing them in Design and and printing gave me perfect nozzles. So for specific parts, it is a great tool, but I don't think I would ever pr

#### Alan R

##### Well-Known Member
As for rocketry: Jigs & nosecones are prime uses. Other parts, not so much. I find the first response is "I 3D printed this", which is soon proven to be really no better than traditional rocket building.
I've been 3D printing for a couple of years ever since I found out they cost under $200 and purchased one. Once you have one, you always find new things to do with it. Shelf brackets, knobs, all kinds of random custom things. As for rocketry I enjoy designing/modifying things to make life a bit easier. Designing and printing things is a hobby in itself so it's inevitable to get combined with my other interests. See examples below... a 3D nose cone to replace the paper on Acme Spitfire, a flyable replacement for the somewhat-fragile Merc-Redstone capsule, and of course, fin jigs. These things make life easier and don't take away from the building experience. As for whole 3D printed rockets I'm not necessarily against them, but I enjoy the building as much or more than the flying, so I'm not interested. I know someone who has a whole 3D printed tumble-recovery G rocket. He's an experienced L2 flyer, so it was created just to see if he could do it I think. I agree on the laser cutter being my preference, and it may be demonstrably superior, for flat pieces like fins, CRs, and bulkheads. Fins, CRs, a few other things would be better if cut from 'traditional' materials with a laser cutter. I, personalty, would rather have a laser cutter than a 3D printer! If you have a 3D printer, you can just bolt on a laser-cutter to the print head for another$100-\$200

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