Even the staunchest 3D printing supporter would have to concede that in general, the greatest strength of 3D printing is not in the production of final parts, but in prototyping. Sure you can make functional prints, as the pages of this site will attest; but few would argue that you wouldn’t be better off getting your design cut out of metal or injection molded if you planned on putting the part into service over the long term. Especially if the part was to be subjected to rough service in an industrial setting.
While that’s valid advice, it certainly isn’t the definitive word on the issue. Just because a part is printed in plastic on a desktop 3D printer doesn’t necessarily mean it can’t be put into real service, at least for as long as it takes to get proper replacement parts. A recent success story from [bloomautomatic] serves as a perfect example, when one of the gears in his MIG welder split, he decided to try and print up a replacement in PLA while he waited for the nylon gear to get shipped out to him. Fast forward seven months and approximately 80,000 welds later, and [bloomautomatic] reports it’s finally time to install those replacement gears he ordered.
In the pictures [bloomautomatic] posted you can see the printed gear finally wore down to the point the teeth were essentially gone where they meshed with their metal counterparts. To those wondering why the gear was plastic to begin with, [bloomautomatic] explains that it’s intended to be a sacrificial gear that will give way instead of destroying the entire gearbox in the event of a jam. According to the original post he made when he installed the replacement gear, the part was printed in Folgertech PLA on a Monoprice Select Mini. There’s no mention of infill percentage, but with such a small part most slicers would likely have made it essentially solid to begin with.
While surviving seven tortuous months inside of the welder is no small feat, we wonder if hardier PLA formulations, treatment of the part post-printing, or even casting it in a different material couldn’t have turned this temporary part into a permanent replacement.