Teenage Engineering: If Our Parts Are Too Expensive, Here's How To Print Your Own

from the think-small dept

There’s plenty of breathless writing about the imminent 3D-printing revolution, but realistically, what is it likely to mean for most people? They probably won’t all be printing out their own planes, but they may well be printing out small replacement parts for goods they own. Here’s an early example of that from the world of electronics, spotted by the Shapeways site:

Teenage Engineering not only make one of the sexiest synthesizers but also get the prize for being the first electronics company to offer their replacement parts as downloadable 3D Printed files.

Teenage Engineering’s explanation for the move is as follows:

We work hard to make our OP-1 [synthesizer] users happy with free OS updates and added functionality. But sometimes we fail. As some have noted, the shipping cost of the OP-1 accessories is very high. This is because we can’t find a good delivery service for small items. Meanwhile, we have decided to put all CAD files of the parts in our library section for you to download. The files are provided in both STEP and STL format. Just download the files and 3D print as many as you want.

Worth noting that this is about serving customers by helping them avoid high shipping costs — not something every company cares about. Notice, too, that Teenage Engineering explicitly encourages people to print as many replacement parts as they want — no attempt to limit this to “one-offs” through stupid licensing agreements, for example.

Of course, that’s exactly as it should be — but too often isn’t. However, it’s also a shrewd move. It means that customers are likely to use their synthesizers for longer, and to become more attached to them. Building customer loyalty in this way is likely to turn them into good ambassadors for the company, and makes the next sale more likely, so Teenage Engineering’s generosity is also good business. Similarly, making the CAD files available encourages users to modify and customize the parts, again building loyalty to the brand, and enriching the ecosystem that grows up around the product.

It would be surprising if this kind of approach did not become more widespread among manufacturers of many categories of goods, given the clear advantages it offers. It’s not quite as exciting as printing out a car or a plane, but is a practical application of 3D printers that might well help drive their wider use thanks to the direct, everyday savings they can bring.

Follow me @glynmoody on Twitter or identi.ca, and on Google+

Filed Under: , , ,
Companies: teenage engineering

Rate this comment as insightful
Rate this comment as funny
You have rated this comment as insightful
You have rated this comment as funny
Flag this comment as abusive/trolling/spam
You have flagged this comment
The first word has already been claimed
The last word has already been claimed
Insightful Lightbulb icon Funny Laughing icon Abusive/trolling/spam Flag icon Insightful badge Lightbulb icon Funny badge Laughing icon Comments icon

Comments on “Teenage Engineering: If Our Parts Are Too Expensive, Here's How To Print Your Own”

Subscribe: RSS Leave a comment
Anonymous Coward says:

Re: They clearly understand what can't be replaced.

Also, it’s a piece of electronic equipment. Although the look is obviously important to the consumer, you’re really buying it because of the electronics inside. Those cannot be easily built at home or at a cost competitive with buying it from the original maker.

Stocking old parts is also simply a pain for a manufacturer, so it simplifies their logistics.

Michael Long (profile) says:

Re: Re: They clearly understand what can't be replaced.

Teenage Engineering is simply after some free press.

Anyone want to calculate the odds of some crude plastic part breaking on a piece of equipment that someone owns who just also happens to have access to a 3D printer, and who also understands how to disassemble and the repair the device in the first place?

Anonymous Coward says:


Heathkit came around at the dawn of hobbyist electronics. You could get anything from a simple AM radio to more complex electronics, assemble yourself. That doesn’t mean a bunch of pre-made boards that you plug together, but actual circuit boards that you did the work on yourself, soldering in pieces and such.

History lesson: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Heathkit

Anyway, their business seemed really good, but in the end, they were wiped out because hobbying in those things just no longer made sense. In some ways, the novelty factor of doing that wore off, but also it became much easier to obtain the finished products rather than build them yourself. When they hit the level of anything beyond a basic computer, they had hit their limits and pretty much faded out.

My thought is that the 3D printing thing has it’s place, but may be more of a short trend between two points. I am not sure what the other end is, but it still seems a little bit like how home computers went to start with. When we started it was all about just having a computer that worked at all (my first computer work was on a SWaTPac 6809).

There was a point in there where just getting the thing to boot and play tic-tac-toe was amazing, and that seems to be where 3D printing is now. It’s a long way in the computer world from there to watching YouTube videos, but goes to show perhaps that it’s not the machine or method but the end result. Right now it’s still “machine”, and consumers mostly want end results. After a play time with this, will it just fade as amusing?

Tim Griffiths (profile) says:


While I agree that 3D printing as is is not the end point but I don’t see how the underlying concepts and goals are going to be fundamentally different in the future.

The concept of creating a local physical copy of a plan using some form of additive manufacturer is literary the same concept as underpins star treks replicators. The only difference between a replicator and a 3d printer is a matter of how effectively the technology is able to realise that concept.

We will follow this as far as technology will allow because where ever it ends up it’s going to have some level of use and I for one look forward to see how it develops 🙂

Tim Griffiths (profile) says:


The propaganda against 3D printing is already starting and you’ll see more and more of it as the filed advances. The main one at the moment is “OMG YOU CAN PRINT GUNS!” but fully expect to see exactly the same crap we’ve seen over the last 30 years to do with copyright and piracy be brought up again.

I mean honestly, what’s happening due to the lobbying of the entertainment industry is going to look like god damn child’s play if 3d printing ever advances enough to threaten some sectors of the manufacturing industry.

Anonymous Coward says:


I read an article that reported the guy printed an AR-15 lower receiver. That particular part, technically the firearm, sees the least stress. however, I would not want to stand anywhere within 500 yards of someone with a loaded printed firearm from muzzle to buttstock. I’d have more confidence in the guy with the zipgun made from wooden blocks and a pipe wrapped in twine.

As for 3d printers within the manufacturing industry, I’ve only seen them in the prototyping sectors. But then most prototypes are plastic to begin with. But 3d printers are nothing more than the conventional cnc machines most facilites already employ. So I don’t see the manufacturing industry getting bent out of shape over 3d printers. They will still need to produce the turbine fan blades for the boeing 7xx or the intake manifold for some BMW that requires that special titanium that only a 5ton 20hp 5axis machine center can produce.

Anonymous Coward says:


The technology has been around for quite a while. Well over a decade.

They’re used commonly in prototyping and we use it at work for many 1 off parts and geometries that are difficult to machine (e.g., complex curves, interior channels).

The machines are starting to reach a point that consumers can buy them. Granted, they are generally still expensive and have a while before they’re commonplace with consumers.

Tim Griffiths (profile) says:


You can build a gun at home using other tools that really don’t cost that much anyway.

“As for 3d printers within the manufacturing industry, I’ve only seen them in the prototyping sectors.”

3D printing wouldn’t be disruptive to the industry if it was purely something that was going to be used by the industry. It would just represent a change from subtractive to additive manufacturer in cnc like machines. Which does not make sense for everything and won’t happen until it’s cheap enough and effective enough that it makes economic sense to switch for relevant processes. Any change to 3D printing for industrial scale use is just a case of adding something to the tool set.

But that’s not what is happening, 3D printing is not just a new industry tool. What makes it disruptive is putting an increasingly powerful manufacturing tool in the hands of consumers. It’s not going to threaten all manufacture but even just looking at the current technology is able to do there are areas of manufacture that would be in trouble if 3D printers come in to common wide spread use. Niall example of the toy industry is a good one in that regard. Lego is based on manufacturing relatively simple bits of plastic, something a 3D printer could start to do at home.

Hell Lego might want to get the jump on this by creating vending like machines, drop a bit of money on and it will dump out a given number of blocks that are kept in stock by a 3D printer. All you need to do is keep it topped up with one bulk transport item. It could even on demand provide ANYTHING Lego makes.

There is a wealth of “simple” manufacturer that 3D printing might be able to compete with even in it’s current state. What it can compete with will only widen as the technology advances and as costs come down it will become more wide spread.

The potential for disruption due to 3D printing is huge. If it will ever actually live that is another matter but it would be a safe bet that those who might be effected are well aware of it and will do there best to see that it doesn’t.

Leigh Beadon (profile) says:

Re: Re:

I am very curious to see how it impacts the Chinese, Taiwanese and Korean export industries, in terms of all the BILLIONS of cheap plastic tchotchkes they manufacture — things like toys, utensils and cups and plates, costume jewellery, and just countless odds and ends like ashtrays and hair-clips and souvenir trinkets and a million other things.

Think of all the places that stuff shows up. In dollar stores, in vending machines, in giant Chinatown retailers with overstocked shelves, inside Christmas Crackers, in mall kiosks, at roadside tourist stands, in a little dusty corner of every convenience store…

Considering that, think: even long before the average consumer has a 3D printer, the average small retailer or distributor will be able to invest in one easily. Then what happens to that whole supply chain? Convenience stores don’t need to stock one of each random plastic item just in case someone needs one — they can just print them on demand. Big discount stores could downsize their retail space by half. Even Wal-Mart could install a giant self-serve 3D printing order machine in every store, and eliminate all their aisles full of plastic cups and plates and trays — which probably wouldn’t be cost effective for them now because of the insanely low prices they throttle out of suppliers because they are so influential, but can that center hold if the overall demand for plastic imports gets cut down to a tiny fraction?

3D printing isn’t just a consumer revolution – it’s a business revolution. It takes an entire class of product — actually, multiple classes of products — and drastically reduces the requirements for production and manufacturing. That is going to start having serious economic ripple effects in all sorts of directions, at a pace that is increasing even now, even if we’re still years or decades away from the “3D-printer-in-every-home” era

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

3D printing is still much slower than injection or blow molding (how most plastic parts are made) and is not likely to become faster than them anytime soon.

Because you have to build it up layer by layer, it is inherently not overly fast. And as a result, it’ll not be cheaper either as a mass manufacturing process. It’s useful for making one offs or parts that cannot be made by normal machining/molding.

Right now, the 3D printer at my place of employment is running a part that will take over 24 hours to make. It’s relatively large for a 3D printed part (say 1’x1′), but it is nowhere near the speed it’d have to be to be viable in retail.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

“3D printing isn’t just a consumer revolution – it’s a business revolution. It takes an entire class of product — actually, multiple classes of products — and drastically reduces the requirements for production and manufacturing. That is going to start having serious economic ripple effects in all sorts of directions, at a pace that is increasing even now, even if we’re still years or decades away from the “3D-printer-in-every-home” era”

Well, yes and no.

I think a real issue here will be the costs to produce an item, combined with it’s quality and finishing. There is a lot more here than meets the eye.

For me, part of the issue will be the cost to create the parts net – the printer, the materials, the time – and how that compares to getting the real thing.

Part of the issue will be the finished product. Most of us don’t get naked, single color plastic without some sort of printing, coloring, or assemblage of colored parts. Your typical little trinket is actually often more complex then the you think.

Part of the issue will be quality. Will the printed part be as tough, or as well made, or as durable, or as soft, or as (insert term here) as the real item?

There is a lot of questions there. Once you start filtering out parts that need extra steps to “finish”, you start to understand that a single color 3D printer alone is not going to answer that many real questions, either in business or in home use.

Moreover, while you can plastic print “anything”, it doesn’t make it a good idea. You can replace any number of metal parts with plastic parts to mock up, but the end product will still not be functional, or perhaps not for long.

We are a long way from seeing the “dollar stores, in vending machines, in giant Chinatown retailers with overstocked shelves, inside Christmas Crackers, in mall kiosks, at roadside tourist stands, in a little dusty corner of every convenience store… ” disappearing, because the technology does not reproduce what they sell, not even close.

Tim Griffiths (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

“A single color 3D printer alone is not going to answer that many real questions”

I don’t think any one is really suggesting that it is. Right now what we are getting is consumer level proof of the basic concept. From this point as costs come down and the technology advances we’ll start to see if it can live up to it’s disruptive potential.

I just think given it’s end point potential we’ll start seeing it targeted by the same old propaganda for the same old reasons.

Andrew D. Todd (user link) says:

Re: Fabricators and Metal Manufacturing, to Tim Griffiths, #17

I can see industrial uses for additive fabricators, of course. They can be used to make molds for metal-casting by some variation of the “lost wax” technique, and I know of one process which actually used plastic molds to cast (steel?) crankshafts for automobiles. The plastic molds were destroyed in the process, but they lasted just long enough for the metal to cross the line from just barely molten to just barely solid. Once you have a solid metal outside, you can cool it with a water spray faster then the molten metal inside can remelt the outside. What they do in the automobile industry is to cast things fairly close to the final shape, and use machine tools to merely “touch up” the critical dimensions, rather than cutting parts from solid barstock. I could see how this kind of thing could be extended to custom production.

Of course, the melting temperature of steel ranges from 2200-2800 deg. F., depending on alloy, and this is not something you want to do at home, or, for that matter, in a storefront. How do you evacuate the store if there’s a fire? Aluminum has a comparatively low melting temperature, of _only_ about 1000 deg. F, depending on alloy.

As for firearms, the gun industry will simply have to shift its controls and accountability to barrels, or better still, to ammunition. That is how the Swiss Army controls assault rifles issued to reservists, by maintaining accountability for the ammunition. Theoretically, an assault rifle can do a lot of damage, but the reservist has signed for his twenty rounds, in a sealed pouch, and it is sufficiently difficult to get more, because the Swiss Army uses an odd caliber round (*), or to actually load the rifle without being caught at the next inspection, and that seems to work reasonably well.

(*) I should add that automatic weapons are notoriously fussy about variety of the powder in the cartridges, it’s their equivalent of gasoline, after all. So there is a significant compatibility issue.

nasch (profile) says:

Re: Re: Fabricators and Metal Manufacturing, to Tim Griffiths, #17

Some of these machines can actually print with metal. I’m sure it’s not nearly as strong as forged steel, but they are not as limited as we sometimes think. I would guess it would be similar to sintered metal. Besides, Glocks have plastic frames; plastics are pretty versatile.

Add Your Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here

Comment Options:

Make this the or (get credits or sign in to see balance) what's this?

What's this?

Techdirt community members with Techdirt Credits can spotlight a comment as either the "First Word" or "Last Word" on a particular comment thread. Credits can be purchased at the Techdirt Insider Shop »

Follow Techdirt

Techdirt Daily Newsletter

Techdirt Deals
Techdirt Insider Discord
The latest chatter on the Techdirt Insider Discord channel...