AstroPrint seems to be entering yet another industry with their powerful set-top 3D printer controller: education, with their new AstroPrint for Education product.
They’ve developed a very interesting solution that solves the dilemma of most desktop 3D printers being, well, dumb.
Most desktop 3D printers have extremely limited functionality beyond the real-time management of printing operations. Often the control interface is a tiny LCD screen with text-only display. If you’re lucky you might have a color touchscreen, but even then the functionality is almost always limited to the basic operating features of the machine.
That’s where AstroPrint comes in. It’s a commercial set-top box that you attach to the 3D printer via it’s direct USB control port. The set-top box connects via WiFi (a technology frequently not found in desktop 3D printers) to a cloud system where all manner of advanced functionality can be provided.
Libraries of 3D models and print files can be stored with almost limitless space; remote control and monitoring of 3D print jobs can take place; logging and reporting can be done; file sharing can be accomplished, perhaps with distant parties; direct access to public repositories of printable 3D models is possible; and fleets of related 3D printers can be managed.
These are powerful features, indeed, and not only useful for individuals, but particularly so for organizations who operate large numbers of 3D printers. For such organizations, there may be different functionality required to manage their 3D printers, but with a cloud-based solution, anything is possible.
AstroPrint For Enterprise
To that end AstroPrint developed a special program called “AstroPrint for Enterprise”. This allows the organization to implement critical features such as security and assigned permissions. Often this is a requirement in larger organizations, who must adhere to rigorous security regimes. For them, the ability to do so can literally mean the difference between using 3D printers and not at all.
There’s also the benefit of obtaining precise usage data on the 3D printer fleet, something a large organization would use to optimize their 3D printing expenses.
AstroPrint for Education Features
Now AstroPrint turns their attention to the education market with the introduction of “AstroPrint for Education”. Like AstroPrint for Enterprise, it is a slightly customized version of the standard AstroPrint, but with an emphasis on features likely useful to educators.
AstroPrint explains the key features of AstroPrint for Education:
Secure Cloud File Storage
Multi-User Management (SSO Login)
Compatible with Most 3D Printer Brands
Shared Print Queues
Live Video Feed
Analytics Performance Reports
Encrypted Network Security
Why build this seemingly similar program? AstroPrint explains:
“While rolling out the successful AstroPrint for Enterprise program earlier this year, several K-12 schools got in touch to integrate AstroPrint for their STEM (Science Technology Engineering & Math) curriculum, while many universities wanted a better resource-sharing and control system for their 3D printer farms in their schools of Engineering, Architecture, and Art.
While their requirements were largely similar to enterprises, such as remote fleet management, automated control, and data-driven optimization to reduce cost and waste, we realized that education institutions had unique needs that were not characteristic of a commercially-run fleet.”
AstroPrint found that one key difference was that educational institutions routinely have new groups of students arriving and old groups departing each year, quite different from what you would see in an enterprise. Or at least well-run enterprises.
Thus they were able to construct features to address these needs, and others, such as implementing constraints on consumption to meet the often tight budgets within institutions.
AstroPrint for Education Beta
The new product is not yet available for public consumption; it’s currently in beta testing, and it looks like AstroPrint is seeking educators wishing to try it out.
If you’re an educator with a fleet of 3D printers to manage, you might want to take a close look at AstroPrint for Education.