The Innovation Station: A 3D Printing Vending Machine for UT Austin Students
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The Innovation Station is designed to provide on-demand, web-enabled 3D printing securely in a public space. The overarching goal is to lower the barriers to 3D printing at a university, to facilitate innovation and creativity, and to inspire future engineers. Both hardware and software innovations were required to realize this capability. From the hardware side, we invented a process to automatically remove parts from the 3D printer and sweep them into a bin from which users can retrieve them without directly accessing the 3D printer. From the software side, in partnership with the Faculty Innovation Center (FIC) at UT Austin, we created a web portal that allows students to upload parts remotely and access detailed directions for creating parts. It also allows administrators to remotely manage the queue and initiate builds. Together, the hardware and the software innovations enable printing multiple jobs continuously without user intervention and remote cancellation of jobs. Plans for the entire station, both hardware and software, are intended to be open source, with a startup cost of less than $4,000 for recreating the station at a new location.