Julie Reece
  • Burlington, MA
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Z Corporation
Job Title
Director, Marketing Communications
3D Printing and scanning
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product design and development process
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Restoring My Grandfather's Lamp

This post is by my colleague, Mark Cook, Z Corp's VP of Research and Development. He sent it to me in order to be posted on our company ZBlog http://mcad3dprintingandprototyping.blogspot.com/.  I wanted to post it  here as well because I'm sure you'll be as moved as I was when I read it.  Enjoy.


I remember my grandfather as a jack-of-all-trades and an engineer of sorts. I’m not sure if he ever earned a degree in engineering but he was one of the most technically competent people I have ever known. He was a pioneer in thermoforming GE’s new “Lexan” (polycarbonate) in the late 50’s and early 60’s. I remember when I was a child in the early 70’s, going with him to Sweetheart Plastics where he was an innovation and technical troubleshooting consultant. Around that same time he tinkered with a window box solar heater and designing and fabricating plastic injection molds.


Years later, after he passed away, my mother handed me a bag of stuff. One of the things in the bag was an old broken lamp that was from my grandparents' house. It used to sit on a corner table in their den. I remember it well because, as far as lamps go, it was the kind a young boy might be interested in - dark brown, bronze, and black with an etching of a colonial era sailing ship. The ship was back lit with a low wattage bulb that gave it a soft glow. I recall flipping the switch so that first the back light clicked on, another click and the back light went off and the main light under the shade went on. One more click turned both lights on.


What I never fully appreciated was that my grandfather built the lamp himself. Long before I can remember he must have come across the copper etching used for making prints of the ship. Somehow he came up with the idea to turn the copper plate into a lamp. Copper etchings are sometimes attached to cylindrical drums, coated with ink, and rolled across paper to transpose the image. It is likely that the copper plate was cylindrical when he found it. From there, the construction was fairly simple, two pieces of turned wood for the top and bottom, a standard lamp kit, and some sort of fake wood patterned plastic strip to close the back side of the copper plate.


By now you are probably wondering what this story has to do with 3D printing. As it turns out, when the lamp was given to me it was in pieces because over years of use the internal lamp melted the fake wood plastic strip enough so that the spring force of the copper plate broke everything apart. It seemed a simple enough fix. I’d have to find a new plastic strip to rejoin the ends of the copper plate, tighten up all of the parts, replace the blown bulbs and buy a new lamp shade.


As with most things, it wasn’t quite that easy. I never paid any attention to the cheap plastic wood looking strip because it was always in the back, facing the wall. It didn’t detract from the lamp’s attractiveness at all. Now, it became the biggest challenge to putting the lamp back together. After a few trips to various hardware stores and home improvement warehouses, I realized that this simple looking part wasn’t going to be easy to find. To this day I have no idea what the actual purpose of it was because I never found anything like it. It never really matched the colors of the rest of the lamp and the assembly required wood shims in order to match the thickness of the copper plate, so it didn’t take long for me to shift gears and consider a better solution.

The picture above on the left shows the fake wood plastic strip. In the picture on the right, you can see the wood shims used to match the copper plate thickness. You can also see the melted plastic toward the bottom. Also note how thin the web is between the two edges of the copper plate. Ideally, this part would be a bit smaller, not require shims, and match the dark brown and black colors of the plate.


I knew that creating the right profile in SolidWorks would be a snap. I was also sure that I could find a texture map that matched the colors better. If not, I knew I could apply a dark brown or black color to the part before printing. I created two different profiles in SolidWorks. I exported them as .stl files. I opened these files in ZPrint and applied several texture maps to them using ZEdit. I put all of the parts into one build file and printed it on a ZPrinter 650.

The picture on the left is the profile and color option I used. The one on the right has a wood grain but the color was too light to be a good match. This part measures 3/8” wide by 8” long. The slot is 0.040” and the center web is 0.060”


I can’t say that I was surprised, but I was very happy that the assembly went together the first time without any issues at all. The most difficult thing was finding a new lamp socket to control both lamps separately. They aren’t rare, but not all hardware stores carry them. Without the ZPrinter 650, I would have been at a loss as to how to fix that lamp. I could have machined a piece of aluminum, purchased an SLA (although I’m not sure the material properties would have been sufficient), or I might have been able to fabricate a piece of real wood. I would have had to paint the aluminum and SLA parts and stained the wood. There are other methods, but to me ZPrinting the part seemed like the best option. I think my grandfather would be pleased. Here are the pictures. You be the judge.

The first picture shows the edge of the copper plate inserted in the slot of the new ZPrinted part. In this picture you can see the natural curvature of the plate forms a half cylinder. This is an indication of the spring force when forming a full cylinder. The second picture shows the ZPrinted part holding both edges of the plate.

The first picture shows the ship backlight on only. The second picture show both backlight and main light on.

The last two pictures show the lamp from behind. Compare these to the first picture in this blog. With the new ZPrinted part, the lamp is no longer relegated to the corner of the room.


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