In which a landlord learns 3D printing replacement window screen parts is a cost effective solution to broken, outdated hardware.
Julia, a 23 year old medical student, just wants some fresh air in her living room. Her apartment is feeling stuffy after the long winter, and for the first time this spring the sun is shining warmly. Taking a break from studying for finals, she walks over to the window near her sofa and lifts up the window.
The bright sunshine has woken a honeybee from its hibernation, and it has gotten stuck in the opening between the screen and window. Julia’s no wimp though, and besides, she really wants to enjoy the spring air. She’ll just let him outside before opening the window completely.
She waits for the bee to crawl up near the top of the window, then carefully, so as to keep the bee’s stinger firmly attached to its abdomen and not in her hand, she eases open the screen. If her plan works, she’ll lower the screen into her kitchen, allowing the bee to escape over the top of the screen to freedom.
Then it happened. You can’t blame her – she was nervous and in a hurry to let the bee out. One of the plastic retainers snapped off as she dragged the window the last few inches into her kitchen. She mentioned it to her landlord the next day.
Peter owns several rental properties in the Minneapolis/St. Paul metro area. These houses, built in the 1970’s, have a window screen part that is prone to breaking. The problem has been nagging him for the past year. This brand of windows isn’t sold anymore, and this part is specific enough that it’s not available in any hardware stores or online. Peter likes to keep his properties in tip-top shape, and broken window screens are not part of that equation.
It may be because the plastic was cheap to begin with, or perhaps it has deteriorated from the weather, but whatever the case the broken screen retainers are adding up. Something needs to be done soon, and it’s looking like he may have to replace all the windows and screens. This will be a last resort though, because materials and labor would easily exceed $200 per window. At an average of 10 windows per property, that $2000 will take a big bite out of his income.
Peter has heard about 3D printing in the news, and wonders if it can be the answer to his problem. It certainly seems that way from all the talk, but the landlord doesn’t know where to get started. He keeps looking, and soon his search is rewarded. There is an “Intro to 3D printing” meetup hosted by a local company, which fits the bill perfectly. Peter comes away with confidence that 3D printing can fix his problem and a 3D modeling designer that can model and deliver 3D printed parts.
Peter met with me shortly after the meetup, bringing one of his window screens with the plastic retainers intact. He explained how the parts were failing, and requested a minor tweak to make the piece more comfortable to open.
From one of the existing parts, I quickly modeled a replica in Sketchup, and placed an order with Shapeways. Less than two weeks later, we had two perfect 3D prints. They worked exactly as intended, and the new curved finger grip was much more pleasant to open.
Peter is pleased as a freed bee. For less than $15 per window, he now has a practical solution to his needs. Whenever he runs low on 3D printed replacement parts, Peter can go to Shapeways.com and order as many as he needs. No muss, no fuss, and they’ll be on his doorstep in a matter of days.
What about the bee? Julie reports it was last seen sipping nectar from the rosebushes in the back yard, none the worse for its short captivity.