What’s With Remote Control 3D Printers, Anyway?

By on August 9th, 2014 in Ideas

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Several manufacturers have recently added various remote control features to their personal 3D printer products. But are they really useful? 

The suggestion is often made that you can control your 3D printer remotely. Start a print while you’re at work and come home to a finished figurine, or whatever. Watch the print via a webcam of some sort. Stop the print if things aren’t right. 

But are these really things people do? We’re suspicious. 

Let’s look at a few usage scenarios. How about “Starting a print remotely”? In our experience this is something we’d almost never attempt unless there were lives at stake. Usually you must prep the machine by leveling the bed, ensuring there’s no leftover crap on the print surface, checking the filament spool to see if there’s enough material to handle the print and so on. When the print starts we ALWAYS watch carefully to ensure the print works, because there’s a high rate of failure on the first layer of prints. Should the first layer fail (which can happen more than half the time with some 3D printers), you have only one option when you’re remote: stop the print. 

What about watching and stopping a print in progress? Sure, this could work. When printing in the lab we often drop by to ensure the print is still going well – and terminate it if something’s gone wrong. This could certainly be done remotely. But once you’ve stopped a print, you cannot restart it without having hands on the scene to re-prepare the print bed, reload filament, or otherwise set the machine up for printing again. 

Would you really set up a print and then wait to start it remotely? Why wouldn’t you just start it when you leave after setting up the printer? The print may finish earlier and will still wait for you when it’s done. This makes no sense to us unless your purpose is to show someone what printing looks like on a webcam. 

It seems to us that the remote functions will be of limited use until someone figures out a way to remotely clear the print bed and prep it for a second print. We haven’t seen anything like that lately.

By Kerry Stevenson

Kerry Stevenson, aka "General Fabb" has written over 8,000 stories on 3D printing at Fabbaloo since he launched the venture in 2007, with an intention to promote and grow the incredible technology of 3D printing across the world. So far, it seems to be working!