Why ham operators should consider 3D printing

As a member of the ham radio community, I have always been fascinated by the maker mindset which has existed since the early days of radio. From making radio equipment from scratch, to kits and even modifying commercially available equipment, the maker movement and radio go hand in hand.

The 3D printing community shares many traits with the ham radio movement. At the heart of it all is making, creating and inventing. And just like ham radio operators, those involved with 3D printing  are constantly learning new technical skills that can be used in other areas of our lives.

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Here are just a few ways ham radio operators can use 3D printing:

1. Creating custom project boxes:  In the past, if you needed a box for a ham radio project, it had to be a prefabricated, one size fits all box. Now you can create a box that fits your project’s needs with custom holes for all the connectors.

2. Print custom extruders: With the advent of paste extruders, you can print your own custom insulators. There are also 3D printing services that print in metal, making it easier to 3D print bespoke metal parts. A lot of research is being done on printing electronics. This could make it easy to not only design your own radios and radio accessories, but also print them.

3. Print replacement parts: You could use 3D printing to print replacement parts.  If you want a new dial for your radio, you can simply print it to suit your own specifications.  Or perhaps, you need a new bracket for your microphone? Again, why not print it and save both money and the hassle of finding the right part. You could also recreate plastic parts for radios that are no longer being made.  With 3D printing, the possibilities really are endless.

4. Cultivate a love for making things: With both the open source 3D printing movement and ham radio, we learn how to make things. Cultivating an appreciation for 3D printing will provide you with a good basis for ham radio. You’ll learn everything you need to know about making, and that’s all you need to get started with ham radio.

5. Reach out to the 3D printing community: Like ham radio, the Reprap community is extremely active and is always encouraging new hobbyists to join. From the guys who have basic skills to the most advanced people who could design new electronics in their sleep, the 3D printing community is thriving. Many of them might also be interested in 3D printing. Why not reach out to the 3D printing community? Who knows, if you combine 3D printing and ham radio you might be able to attract young blood.

3D printing can be a major resource for ham radio. Both to help build a new skillset and as a resource for teaching technical skills. In addition to getting more people interested in ham radio, this could inspire makers to invent new ham radio gadgets. It’s up to ham operators to embrace this ever-evolving technology and use it to their advantage.