Wireless 3D printing station

pic of raspi and octoprint

When I first got into 3D printing, I'd been outsourcing all of my printing needs to Shapeways. I was working on a brand new jewellery range at the time, and was prototyping different forms. I wouldn't call that rapid prototyping though, given the wait on even plastics used to be two weeks at the time. They turn things around a lot faster these days, though!

A year or two later I moved to a city which was about to open a hackerspace in the downtown area. Once it opened, three 3D printers were available to use, which stepped up my access to printing things that I needed. This was a pretty big deal, because I got to learn how to use the machines. The process was no longer abstracted away. I could turn around things much faster as well if I needed to.

I remember when I then bought my first 3D printer kit for my home. It was deliriously exciting to think that I could print any time I wanted, and tweak a myriad of settings to perfect the output without annoying others.

The 3D printing workstation came about in two stages: convenience first, and then later, space.

I lived by myself in a rather generously sized, stupidly affordable two bedroom condo at the time. The printer took pride of place in my rather large study. This study easily held two work tables and a rather bulky writing desk. I had a sewing station, a computer station for my coding needs, and a dedicated place for my new 3D printer as well.

It became apparent rather quickly though, that I was constantly tethered to the printer in some way. I started by printing via a USB connection to my computer. This was a rather terrifying endeavour. One tiny interruption would be catastrophic for your currently running print job. Say, you're four hours into a five hour print, going strong. You forget you're tethered and click 'yes' to a software update, which you didn't notice would require a restart of your computer. Welp, you just halted the print, and in most cases this is not recoverable. Perhaps your friend would like to Skype with you, and you have to turn her down because you're stuck next to a bunch of noisy stepper motors on a vibrating printer for the next two hours. You get my drift!

I also tried printing from an SD card, however I found that I was continually running back and forth between the computer and the printer, reloading and starting up a gcode file that had been tweaked in some minute way for better settings. It was better, but not optimal.

I started looking into other options online, and stumbled upon Octoprint. It was written by Gina Häußge, and BQ recently sponsored work and maintenance on it going forward. Octoprint is a wonderful python based service that can run on any computer attached to a 3D printer. It serves up a web app, meaning you can access this web app simple by visiting the IP address of the computer you have it running on. You can upload gcode files, run gcode commands on the printer, and start print jobs all from the web interface.

I took the path that most have, and decided to run Octoprint from a Raspberry Pi. The Raspberry Pi is ideal, because it's a very small computer capable of running Octoprint just fine (in fact I'm still using my old Pi model B!). It doesn't take up to much desk space either which is really nice. Having a little machine dedicated to running the 3D printer has really made things so much more convenient.

Getting up and running on Octoprint is pretty straightforward. You can install it yourself on a Raspberry Pi, or you can download a pre-made Raspian image with Octoprint ready to go made by Guy Sheffer called OctoPi, which is even easier.

Here is a screencast I recorded of my old printer running on Octoprint. Octoprint supports webcam streaming and timelapse recording which is an awesome feature you'll notice in the video below:

And an example of a timelapse from Octoprint, also on my old printer:

Pretty neat, huh!

Fast forward to last year. New year, new printer (!!), new city, and new apartment! The new city/apartment caused a fresh problem. This was New York City. I am sharing a rather tiny two bedroom apartment with my partner. I downsized a LOT to make this happen. I got rid of my old writing desk, and my partner uses one of the work tables as the desk he works from every day (he works from home).

When we bought a new, larger printer, we had to place it straddling our two small work tables. This ate into our desktop space, was really noisy, and it shook the two tables as it printed. Not ideal!

Given the limited space we have in the study (second bedroom), I window shopped online until I found the Stuva Storage Combination from Ikea.

pic of stuva from ikea website

I picked it up for $135 plus additional for delivery (NYC = I got rid of my car). What sold the Stuva for me was how narrow it is (we had managed to create only a tiny space for the new printer location), and how much storage it had. Finally, we'd be able to unpack the rolls of filament from the cardboard boxes in the closet!

What we really wanted was for the printer to sit on top of the workstation and nothing else. The Raspberry Pi, the wifi extender, and the power supply should be hidden away. We installed the shelf inside the Stuva in a high position (after measuring the height of the power supply) in order to achieve this.

This is the final result, squished into our study right next to the entrance:

pic of the station1

When we're worried about draughts (rarely, because we mostly print in PLA) we just close the door, and open the window on the other side of the room to prevent overheating / provide ventilation.

The wireless setup inside:

pic of the station2

Bottom drawer, full of filament:

pic of the station3

It looks beautiful, frees up desk space, and allows storage of filament, kapton tape, tools, etc right with the printer. Win win!

I'd love to see other printer setups, feel free to comment with photos below!

Suz Hinton
Hi! I'm a web developer and tech enthusiast living in Brooklyn, NY. I like to work on weird stuff. noopkat.com
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