The fridge in the kitchen is old. I don't know quite how old, but we've been using it for over 10 years and before that it was in my Mother-in-law's kitchen. However old it is it still works and we'll keep using it at least until we redecorate the kitchen. For the last year or so there has though been a small niggling little problem. Periodically you would open the fridge only for the milk to go flying across the kitchen, usually leaking everywhere in the process. The problem was that one of the brackets holding the shelf edge on was broken.
I initially fixed the bracket by super-gluing the retaining pins back on, and while this works for a short while it will let go again after a few months. I also tried numerous varieties of tape to keep things together but this was worse than gluing; I'm guessing due to the cold temperature and moisture. Just after lunch last Friday I opened the fridge and yet again the milk went flying. This time it had been less than a day since I'd tapped the shelf edge in place and I'd had enough. Given how old the fridge was I didn't hold out much hope of being able to just buy a replacement part, and sure enough a quick web search didn't turn up anything helpful, so I set about creating a replacement part instead.
Long term readers of this blog may remember that almost two years ago I experimented with 3D printing for the first time. Since then I've designed and printed quite a few model railway items and even opened a shop on Shapeways. Given how easy simple geometric shapes are to model and print, I decided that it would be eminently feasible to design and print a replacement bracket.
It took me about half an hour to model the bracket in Blender using a set of digital callipers to measure the matching unbroken bracket. The part was quick to model as I focused on function rather than form (the model consists of just four cubes, a cylinder, and few mirror and boolean modifiers); it certainly isn't going to win any design awards!
After creating the model it was simple to upload it to Shapeways and less than 45 minutes after deciding to 3D print the replacement part I had one on order in the white strong and flexible material. Yesterday, just four working days after placing the order, the printed part arrived. A quick comparison with the original and it looked as if I'd got the measurements right, and indeed it fits perfectly, so now I can open the fridge without worrying about the milk going flying across the kitchen!
Whilst I really enjoy using 3D printing for producing small models, I think using the process to produce replacement parts is even more useful, especially when there is no other way to source the parts you need. Having proved how well it worked in this case, I'm sure this will be my first choice for any similar situation in the future.