Creality, makers of the Ender series of 3D printers, have released a product called Wi-Fi Box meant to cheaply add network control to your printer. Naturally I had to order one so we could take a peek, but this is certainly not a product review. If you’re looking to control your 3D printer over the network, get yourself a Raspberry Pi and install Gina Häußge’s phenomenal OctoPrint on it. Despite what Creality might want you to believe, their product is little more than a poor imitation of this incredible open source project.
Even if you manage to get it working with your printer, which judging by early indications is a pretty big if, it won’t give you anywhere near the same experience. At best it’ll save you a few dollars compared to going the DIY route, but at the cost of missing out on the vibrant community of plugin developers that have helped establish OctoPrint as the defacto remote 3D printing solution.
That being said, the hardware itself seems pretty interesting. For just $20 USD you get a palm-sized Linux computer with WiFi, Ethernet, a micro SD slot, and a pair of USB ports; all wrapped up in a fairly rugged enclosure. There’s no video output, but that will hardly scare off the veteran penguin wrangler. Tucked in a corner and sipping down only a few watts, one can imagine plenty of tasks this little gadget would be well suited to. Perhaps it could act as a small MQTT broker for all your smart home devices, or a low-power remote weather station. The possibilities are nearly limitless, assuming we can get into the thing anyway.
So what’s inside the Creality Wi-Fi Box, and how hard will it be to bend it to our will? Let’s take one apart and find out.
A very common hack to a 3D printer is to connect a Raspberry Pi to your printer and then load Octoprint or a similar program and send your files to the printer via the network. [Teaching Tech] noticed that Creality now has an inexpensive WiFi interface that promises to replace Octoprint and decided to give it a quick review.
You might wonder why you’d want this system when Octoprint exists? Mainly, the value proposition is the price. You can buy the Creality box for about $20. A Raspberry Pi with a similar case would be at least twice that price. In addition, the box integrates with a Thingiverse-like library and does cloud slicing, which is attractive when you have a very small computer connected to your printer.
However, [Teaching Tech] found some issues. The box was pretty picky about connecting to printers and there were many other problems. The 3D model library wasn’t very comprehensive, although that could change if the thing got very popular. Worse, the slicer didn’t really produce stellar results.
We have to admit, an attractive network interface for $20 would be of interest. But it is hard to see how this would be a better value than Octoprint unless you were very short on cash and had no Raspberry Pi surplus laying around. You still need an SD card and a power supply, so those extras are a wash.
On the other hand, if Creality fixes the problems and expands the 3D model library, we’d buy one. But it remains to be seen if either of those things will happen, much less both of them. We do wish [Teaching Tech] had opened the thing up for us. Maybe next time.
There was a time, not so very long ago, that buying a reliable 3D printer was a fairly expensive proposition. Many chose to build their own printer instead, and for a few years, we were flooded with very impressive custom designs. But as you might expect, with the prices on decent 3D printers now having hit rock bottom, the custom builds have largely dried up.
Arguably, the only reason you’d build rather than buy in 2020 is if you want something very specific. Which is precisely how [Joshendy] ended up building the Big F… Printer or BFP. No doubt the F stands for Fun, or Friendly. Either way, it’s certainly something special. With a 300 mm³ build volume and heavy-duty Z axis, this fully enclosed CoreXY machine is ready to handle whatever he throws at it.
It did take [Joshendy] a few attempts to get everything the way he wanted though. In fact, the prototype for the machine wasn’t even CoreXY, it started as an H-Bot. In his write-up he goes over the elements of the BFP did that didn’t quite live up to his expectations, and what he replaced them with. So when wobbly leadscrews and a knock-off V6 hotend both left something to be desired, they ended up getting replaced with ball screws and an authentic E3D Hemera, respectively.
To control this monster, [Joshendy] is using OctoPrint on a Raspberry Pi and a BigTreeTech SKR Pro running Klipper. OctoPrint gives him the ability to control and monitor the printer remotely, complete with a camera mounted inside the enclosure to keep an eye on things, while the Klipper firmware on the SKR board pushes all the computationally expensive aspects of 3D printing onto the vastly more powerful ARM chip in the Pi. The end result is faster and more accurate control of the steppers through the TMC2130 drivers than would be possible otherwise.
Recent price drops put entry level masked stereolithography (MSLA) resin 3D printers at around $200 USD, making them a very compelling tool for makers and hackers. But as you might expect, getting the price this low often involves cutting several corners. One of the ways manufacturers have made their machines so cheap is by simplifying the electronics and paring down the feature set to the absolute minimum.
If this were a traditional 3D printer, he might have installed OctoPrint and been done with it. But resin printers are a very different beast. In the end, [Luiz] had to develop his own remote control software that worked around the unique limitations of the printer’s electronics. His software runs on a Raspberry Pi Zero and uses Linux’s “USB Gadget” system to make it appear as a flash drive when plugged into the USB port on the Elegoo Mars Pro.
This allows sending object files to the printer over the network, but there was a missing piece to the puzzle. [Luiz] still needed to manually go over to the printer and select which file he wanted to load from the menu. Until he realized there was an exposed serial port on control board that allowed him to pass commands to the printer. Between the serial connection and faux USB Mass Storage device, his mariner software has full control over the Mars Pro and is able to trigger and monitor print jobs remotely.
The printer is almost entirely self-contained, running an OctoPrint controller with built-in hotspot which allows print files to be sent to the unit over a smartphone. The motion platform is built out of DVD drive stepper motors and rails, with dual motors used on the Z-axis to ensure there’s enough torque to move smoothly. Power is courtesy of 26650 cells, in a 2S3P configuration, which provides 3 hours of runtime. While this might not sound like much, for a compact printer with a small build volume, it’s a useful period of time to work with.
Anyone who’s spent some quality time with a desktop 3D printer is familiar with the concept of supports. If you’re working with a complex model that has overhanging features, printing a “scaffolding” of support material around it is often required. Unfortunately, supports can be a pain to remove and often leave marks on the finished print that need to be addressed.
Looking to improve the situation, [Tumblebeer] has come up with a very unique modification to the traditional approach that we think is certainly worthy of closer examination. It doesn’t remove the need for support material, but it does make it much easier to remove. The method is cheap, relatively simple to implement, and doesn’t require multiple extruders or filament switching as is the case with something like water-soluble supports.
The trick is to use a permanent marker as a release agent between the top of the support and the area of the print it’s actually touching. The coating of marker prevents the two surfaces from fusing, while still providing the physical support necessary to keep the model from sagging or collapsing.
To test this concept, [Tumblebeer] has outfitted a Prusa i3 MK3S with a solenoid actuated marker holder that hangs off the side of the extruder assembly. The coil is driven from the GPIO pins of a Raspberry Pi running OctoPrint, and is engaged by a custom command in the G-code file. It keeps the marker out of the way during normal printing, and lowers it when its time to lay down the interface coating.
[Tumblebeer] says there’s still a bit of hand-coding involved in this method, and that some automated G-code scripts or a custom slicer plugin could streamline the process considerably. We’re very interested in seeing further community development of this concept, as it seems to hold considerable promise. Having a marker strapped to the side of the extruder might seem complex, but it’s nothing compared to switching out filaments on the fly.
If you’ve got a desktop 3D printer, there’s an excellent chance you’ve heard of OctoPrint. This web front-end, usually running on a Raspberry Pi, allows you to monitor and control the printer over the network from any device that has a browser. But what if you’ve got two printers? Or 20? The logistics of each printer getting its own Pi can get uncomfortable in a hurry, which is why [Jay Doscher] has been working on a way to simplify things.
Leveraging the boosted processing power of the Raspberry Pi 4 and some good old fashioned Linux trickery, [Jay] is now controlling multiple printers from a single device. The trick is to run multiple instances of the OctoPrint backend and assign them to virtual network interfaces so they don’t interfere with each other. This takes some custom systemd unit files to get up and running on Raspbian, which he’s been kind enough to include them in the write-up.
But getting multiple copies of OctoPrint running on the Pi is only half the battle. There still needs to be a way to sort out which printer is which. Under normal circumstances, the printers would be assigned random virtual serial ports when the Pi booted. To prevent any confusion, [Jay] explains how you can use custom udev rules to make sure that each printer gets its own unique device node. Even if you aren’t trying to wrangle multiple 3D printers, this is a useful trick should you find yourself struggling to keep track of your USB gadgets.