Parametric Parts: Making customization a piece of cake
by Tatiana | March 21, 2013
Are you looking for a specific model; but can’t find the right size? Dave Cowden, a mechanical engineer with a passion for 3D printing, came up with the solution: Parametric Parts. An interview!
What’s your background?
David: «I was educated as a Mechanical Engineer, but I’ve always enjoyed ‘making things’. I moved into the IT industry about 15 years ago, and managed an e-commerce team for 10 years during the dot-com boom. Today, I count software engineering, agile software development, and programming as my trade, but I still make things at home as a hobby. Home projects include making CNC machines and 3D printers. I first worked on 3D printers back in 1992, when they cost > $250,000-at that time at Pratt and Whitney Aircraft. I’ve followed them ever since. 3D printing has always been fascinating to me, along with all other technologies used to make things.»
Why did you start Parametric Parts?
David: «I had the idea while working with my 3D printer at home. I was frustrated by how often I needed a part; I could find lots of models online, but they were always not exactly right. Of course any model you download tends to be STL, which means you really cannot modify it even slightly without a lot of effort. OpenSCAD was close- the models could be tweaked, but it took a long time and a lot of expertise. It was clear at that moment that most people in the world won’t be willing to download and install software just to customize a model- it had to be easier. So the idea of parametricparts.com was born.»
Can you tell us a little bit more about it?
Dave Cowden: « Well, it might be easier to describe what it is not. It is not another online website listing tons of 3d models for download. It is not a web based CAD system, either. Parametric Parts is a productivity application for 3D models. Parametric Parts gets its name from the models-all of them are parametric, which means that they can be customized to the exact specifications needed by the user, and then downloaded and/or printed online.»
«Designers can create models that yield an unlimited number of possibilities, and users can finally get what they want without endless searching.»
How will it help designers?
David: «Designers will finally be able to monetize designs. The problem with being a 3D designer is that you can usually only sell a model one time- because it is tailored for just one customer. But imagine if you, for example, design one cup-and then sell it to everyone who wants a cup, because you have provided the ability to customize the bottom and top diameters, the thickness, and the height? »
How easy is it to use?
David: «Using the site is as easy as it could be for users. Search for a model, choose the parameters you’d like to change, and then download/print. For designers, it is a little harder, because it is necessary to script the object, which means learning our API (CadQuery) , or the FreeCAD API. The learning curve is easier than that of OpenSCAD, because our scripts are based on python.»
Right now there are 14 models; how many models do you want to put online in time?
David: «As many as possible. We’ve just launched the site, so the model collection is growing as users add new models.»
Do you make these models?
David: «No, anyone can post models. It is and always will be free to post models as long as it is free to download them. My main goal right now is to provide this tool for free to the hobbiests and engineers out there who were frustrated like I was. As time goes on, I expect people will being to use our commercial licensing to sell their models online, similar to the way that stock photos are sold on Shutterstock.com and iStockPhoto.com.»
Can you give an example how and why designers would want to customize these models?
David: «Designers want to build customization into their models so that one model can serve lots of needs. As an example, a single, well designed gear model can supply all of the possible gears of a particular design- including variable pitch, angle, size, number of teeth, and hub configuration.»
Who can use your web based app?
David: «Anyone can use it. Hobbiests and Tinkerers can use it completely free forever. Designers can publish designs for sale, and users can download and configure free models and/or commercial models. Most models require signup to download and print, but there are also a number of free models on the site that can be downloaded without even signing up.»
i.materialise is now the only service to print your designs from Parametric Parts, just click on i.materialise when you’re done: