A small Canadian startup has developed a somewhat different concept for 3D printer networks.
There have been a number of approaches taken by several companies to develop effective ways to network 3D printers together. The first generation of desktop 3D printers were sadly unintelligent and typically operated standalone, obtaining jobs from inserted SD cards.
Later on USB ports were added, which then offered the possibility of driving the equipment from an attached computer, which many people took advantage of. However, this is quite restrictive unless you happen to have a dedicated computer to leave beside your 3D printer; you wouldn’t want your valuable laptop tied up for 37 hours printing a 240mm tall dragon when you need to take it to a meeting, for example.
Then several companies came up with the idea of producing a kind of “set top” box that was simpler and sufficiently inexpensive to permanently assign to drive a desktop 3D printer. Printr, 3DPrinterOS, OctoPrint, Astroprint and others have such a system in place.
Some vendors saw the advantage of this effect and began to include networking functionality directly in their equipment, but while it increased convenience somewhat, it was often very limited in that it worked only within the local network and was essentially a very long local USB cable.
But Lani Labs has developed something perhaps a bit beyond this functionality. Yes, you can store, manage and slice 3D models in the cloud and direct them to a designated 3D printer, with their “lanibox” set top unit. That’s functionality you can find in several other solutions.
But what’s most interesting about the Lani Labs solution is that you can accept and charge for print jobs.
I spoke with Lani Labs founder Pablo Eder who said that people typically are “using their 3D printers to make things for others”, and this, I believe, is one of the profound truths in 3D printing. We are always making things for other people.
And sometimes that work is a chargeable transaction.
Lani Labs recognizes this and has made a system that can do so automatically. You can:
Set up a page that enables people to submit jobs to you. Who submits jobs and how much you charge is up to you.
Manage users, materials and printers. Track usage, printability and ROI on all your devices.
Currently the company has around 300 participants and expects to hit 450 by next month.
Their target market is actually not individuals, by the way; it’s institutions that operate a number of 3D printers, like libraries or schools. Such organizations typically have a designated operator that can now review a list of incoming (paid) print jobs and execute them.
Even better, their network can also act as a system to find a local 3D printing provider and send in a print request.
In this way you might say the Lani Labs solution is like a hybrid between a set top box network like 3DPrinterOS, and a community 3D printing network like 3D Hubs. That’s unique!
Eder explained that the system can work well in conjunction with Octoprint, if you were wondering.
So far the system works only with filament-based machines, as they must provide generic slicing software in the cloud. The company hopes to provide support for SLA / resin machines in the near future. Eventually they hope to support not only 3D printers but also many common making machines, such as laser cutters, CNC machines and more. This could make life a lot easier for many organizations.
One major development from Lani Labs is their partnership with Robo, the well regarded desktop 3D printer manufacturer. Apparently all new Robo machines will come equipped with Lani Labs functionality built right into the machine. You will not need to install a separate lanibox. For other machines, you will need the USD$99 set top box.
Imagine if ALL desktop 3D printers had this functionality. It might be like a gigantic 3D Hubs spanning the entire world. However, as of this moment, only Robo has partnered with Lani Labs. That may change as we understand not one, but two other notable 3D printer manufacturers are currently testing Lani Labs features for potential embedding into their equipment.
Networking your desktop 3D printer just got a lot more interesting.
Via Lani Labs