Year of the Maker: Week Eleven in Review – Thoughts on Rapid Prototyping

I bought a great car a few months ago, but it is *not* a new car. It’s a 2005 Porsche Boxster S and is a profound pleasure to drive. I’d much rather buy a great used car than a new car that I wouldn’t love. One down side to buying a car from the middle of the previous decade, though, is that it lacks some of the more modern electronics. In my case, I have to toss my iPhone in the passenger seat and connect it to the radio via an FM transmitter (there’s no aux input jack). The phone slides around all over the place in the passenger seat becuase there’s no good place to attach a holder on the dash. Honestly, though, I could go without music entirely if I had to because the driving experience is superlative.

Given a choice, though, I won’t go without my music, and as a maker I don’t have to!  Since this a wonderful car, I want an iPhone mount that won’t take away from the car’s appearance.  Fortunately, there is a conveniently-placed ashtray (and I don’t smoke!).  Unfortunately, it’s too small to simply drop my phone into it (and I couldn’t press skip/pause/replay if it did fit).  However, that ashtray can serve as perfect location for an iPhone mount if such a thing existed.

That’s where rapid prototyping comes in to play along with 3D-print-on-demand that’s available to me as a builder of a 3D printer.  First I made a few quick measurements of the ashtray and the phone (in its case).  I then did rough designs for the mount and the bracket.  Save and print and I have “rough sketch” real objects.  No surprise to me that they wouldn’t fit/work — I didn’t expect the sketches to be the final product.  What this rapid “idea to model to object” process does is let me quickly and easily determine what changes I need to make.  It didn’t have to be perfect from the start.  In this case, the grip for the phone was too thin, the ashtray turned out to be smaller on the bottom than the top and the slot for the grip was too shallow.  I ran through a few more iterations before getting it exactly as I wanted.  You can see the progressive changes here:

Rapid prototyping (model –> build –> repeat) is a fantastic real-world equivalent to the agile programming methodology.  It’s also a lot more fun than having to get everything right on the first go.  Once I was satisfied I had exactly what I wanted, I changed out the filament feeding into my printer from white to sky blue to make it prettier.  The final product is two pieces that come apart so that I can store the grip in the center console and close the ashtray when I’m not using it — this keeps the original design of the car’s interior intact.  Here’s the final version:

I may purchase a spool of grey plastic in the future and reprint it so that it matches the grey interior.  In the meantime, though, I now have a custom-made, rapidly-prototyped secure mount for my iPhone that’s a perfect fit for the ashtray in a 2005 Boxster!

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