AMS Spring 2023

Strength, Performance & Durability: Can 3D Printed Gears Really Pass Muster?


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the-mechanism-of-418198_960_720-300x200Gears are often an intrinsic part of mechanical objects. And no matter how you spin the issue, we know several things: they must be strong, durable, and capable of withstanding significant, repetitive motion. We do see gears crop up fairly often in 3D printing projects, and I always admire the ingenuity of their varying designs.

If you take a poll from a crowd of people who might have just a passing knowledge of what 3D printing is in general, and ask them what they think of 3D printed gears as opposed to those made traditionally, you will most likely get a quizzical look as they scratch their heads and wonder aloud if the parts would indeed be strong enough. Lightweight, sure—but will they hold up?

3dp_reductiongear_Gears_animationThese very parts put the P in precision for the larger picture of a design—and precision of course, is something we often discuss in 3D printing—and are coming to expect more and more. In a recent study by NewsWatch, they examined the world of 3D printed gears, highlighting the fact that in fabricating gears, your best bet is to make those with a low error tolerance—because you will most likely see performance diminishing as you begin to reduce the distance between gears.

Strength is a big consideration too because most of us are going to be 3D printing in ABS or PLA. While there are other alternative materials out there, we have indeed seen some amazing gears made out of PLA, for example, as it was used to construct an entirely 3D printed tourbillon clock, which is worth checking out—or how about a cardboard race car relying on plastic fabricated gears? While plastics may not be as durable as metal, we’ve certainly seen them performing more than sufficiently in many cases; however, obviously, improvements probably will occur in this area as the technology continues to evolve at an accelerated rate. And while you may not see plastic gears being used in super high-performance constructions—indeed, those are the scenarios where metal 3D printing can be already probably be turned to, if an alternative to traditional manufacturing is being sought.

gearsAnd as we are discussing precision and strength, one central thing cannot be overlooked: the power of your 3D printer. That’s a no-brainer—and it doesn’t matter what you’re making for the most part with your machine—if it’s of low-quality, then that is what you can expect to come out of it as well. Whether or not you are pushing the limits is a consideration too, in terms of tools and your current abilities and level of expertise as a maker. While you may be embroiled in an original design, it’s also easy to download a file from a platform like Thingiverse and put your printer to work—once it’s finished, however, you have the bigger picture to consider if you are engineering a complex mechanical device.

I’ve had the experience of the thrill in 3D printing from the desktop in that when something gets lost or breaks, you can sometimes replace it fairly quickly at home—and for my part this began very simply in delegating the task to my children for making replacement chess pieces, as well as checkers (perfect Saturday activity!). While that might seem a small thing, it’s very empowering when you don’t have to go out and buy an entirely new game, and can fabricate new parts without going anywhere or asking for anyone else’s help. This translates to gears in that if you have the motivation and know-how, making them yourself allows you not only to make cool things—but you can also fix or refurbish little items around the house should that be something you enjoy.

Along the way, you can customize devices to your liking, make as many as you want, adjust a file easily if the construction isn’t to your liking—and best of all, save a lot of money with the affordability of 3D printing. Oh, and there’s one more perk to all of this new technology: you might just find yourself having an awful lot of fun along most of the way. Have you printed any gears yourself? Tell us, as well as discussing the issues with these parts in the 3D Printed Gears forum over at

[SOURCE: NewsWatch]

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