I’m often surprised by the projects that people pursue with their desktop 3D printers. Steve Ryan, for instance, uses his consumer device to design and build yachts. This isn’t an Oak Ridge National Laboratory giant gantry machine used for 3D printing car parts. Ryan’s 3D printer is an Afinia H-Series and, regardless of its 5” x 5” x 5” build envelope, he is able to construct impressive pieces.
Ryan is the owner of RyanTech Engineering, a product design and development firm based in Orange County and on Ryan’s yacht. The company’s owner explains what the company does, “What we do is take our clients’ ideas and create a manufacturable product and make sure the design intent doesn’t get lost along the way. Sometimes we engineers focus a bit too much on the engineering and loose some sight as to the intended use of the product.” Using commercial scanners attached to six and eight foot articulating arms, the company performs tasks like reverse engineering, including the scanning of full-sized automobiles. Naturally, RyanTech got into 3D printing, first, as a means of prototyping.
Ryan says, “I was first exposed to 3D printing as part of the prototype service that I was using. Unfortunately, it got to the point where the pricing and turnaround time had increased so much that my clients started to get unhappy.” Eventually, he found a consumer 3D printer that fit his needs. “I came across the Afinia 3D printer a while back – there were really good reviews. I received some print samples and saw that they were of better quality than the other printers that I had seen. They were also better than some of the prototyping services that I was using. That really got my attention.”
And, though the desktop machine suited was right for the price, how would it handle the size of Ryan’s projects? “Many of the products that I design are quite big. I spent three years designing a 120-foot yacht for a client of mine. Many of the subcomponents are also quite big – one of my most recent ones was 15” x 18”. I broke-up the model into pieces that would print on the Afinia and they came together beautifully. This was definitely preferable to spending the $12,500 that the prototyping service would have charged me.”
He’s certainly pushed the limits of what his consumer-grade 3D printer can do, even printing large casting parts, saying, “One of my clients does aluminium castings and had asked me to make a mold. I had never done that kind of work and decided to give it a try. I was able to design and print a 36-piece mold and it worked perfectly – kind of like Legos snapping together. Now, mold design and printing has become an important piece of my practice.”
Tackling the size problem through his ingenious assembly approach, the 3D printer is perfect for Ryan’s choice of lifestyle. It’s diminutive stature fits right into his office. “Since I [have my] office on my yacht, I needed a powerful 3D printer that wouldn’t take up much space. I have my Afinia installed in the main cabin in-between the throttle and ships’ wheel. I’ve built a custom enclosure to regulate the printing environment.”
He adds that the printer has not only helped him with his business, but with his boating, as well, “Having in-house 3D printing capability has allowed me to invent a number of things. For example, quite a few stand-up paddle boarders use the marina where I dock. It’s really hard to get around when the boards lying about so I invented and prototyped a storage system on my Afinia that temporarily connects to the dock. Marina owners love this because they need the storage and they do not want to permanently attach things of this type to the decking. This idea has caught-on so I’m thinking of creating a Kickstarter campaign to fund the project.”
I won’t go as far as to make a tired Lonely Islands reference about 3D printing being “on a boat”, but my mother-in-law (a big Lonely Islands fan) would be mad if I didn’t at least call Mr. Ryan a “boss” for taking a pint-sized printer and making it do grandiose things.
Image Source: user Nevil_Clavain on Thingiverse