Mini Farm

Once I decided to get serious about trying to use 3D printers on a larger scale I spent some time thinking about how I was going to make it happen. I hope these notes with help someone who might be thinking about doing something similar. I considered the following major points:

Quantity – My first decision was (and to some extent continues to be) how many printers I needed to make production possible on a meaningful scale. I started with 2 and quickly realized I needed more and rationalized 6. Six was driven largely by the thought that I could create a rack 3 wide and 2 high to fit into our basement. Although arbitrary I am also finding that 6 is a good number because if I have a printer issue I still have 5 operating while I am working on the down one. Alternatively, I can have 2 or 3 running any given design and still have 2 or 3 more for something else. When I want to print a large assembly quickly dividing it amongst up to 6 printers makes prototyping super fast. So at this point, I think 6 is a pretty good quantity.

Space and Organization – As noted above I had already contemplated how I was going to organize the printers to minimize the space I needed to allocate to this undertaking. The “77-inch W x 78-inch H x 24-inch D 4-Shelf Heavy Duty Industrial Welded Steel Rack” from Home Depot seemed like the perfect fit for 6 units on paper so I purchased one. In reality, things are pretty tight and it does not leave much room to move the machines around. But when all is going well the space is perfect. I removed the steel grate shelves and replaced them with 3/8″ plywood – which worked out perfectly.

Fitting the printers into a rack was really just one piece of the space issue though. I needed to have space in front and behind, and ideally, enough space on both sides to carry out a printer. Then I also need space to work on the printer that is removed from the rack.

Since I was now working on more machines I also found I needed more work space and more dedicated workspace. Previously I had an improvised workbench that I shared with other uses. But now I found I needed a dedicated diagnostic and solder bench.

I have way more spare parts now so I needed a shelf unit for spare parts. Filaments supply. Staging products after printing. Packaging and fulfillment space. You get the idea. Things start to add up quickly.

I also built a 7th Voron, a test jig, for troubleshooting and diagnostic purposes. That is on the wall beside my workbench. I call it #0.

I am considering the idea of putting each machine on a separate slide-out tray/surface so that I can pull the machine forward out of the rack to service it and or pick it up. Something for the future.

I was fortunate to find that I have enough room on the top shelf of my rack to store filament. That was definitely a huge bonus as I really have little space remaining for such a bulky supply.

Power – I tried separately to measure and calculate the power I needed but in the end I used the “see how many it takes to blow the circuit breaker” approach. Sicne the power consumed varies significantly depending on the status of the bed heater I found that the most important thing is when you start multiple machines at the same time. In the end it was 4 or 5 at the same time would blow the 120V 15A circuit while sharing a few other loads like some room lights. So I have put a dedicated 15A circuit in for each set of 3 machines and that seems to be perfect.

Ventilation – A big part of my “where to put the machines” decision was also about ventilation. I knew that with one or 2 machines sometimes the air was not great. So with 6, I knew a few filters were not going to suffice. As a result, I organized the printers so that I could vent them all out on a side wall. I designed a quick-release fitting and my own Y joint, fan connection, supports an external port for the house wall. I will post those sometime (when I have time). All the 2.5″ exhaust lines feed into a port on the wall. I have a 4″ fan running there to create a little negative pressure in the exhaust lines. This works excellently.

Lighting – I didn’t really consider it before I started but it is definitely worth considering. I ended up with WS2812 strips in the top of each unit but greater overall room lighting is also an important consideration. I have windows at the end of my room allowing in natural light during the day but in the evenings it can be quite dark. So I have installed more lighting across the room.

Logistics – Simply having space for filament supplies, printed products, packaging and fulfillment is a major area that you must pay attention to. I have super space-challenged but using shelving has created enough space for me so far.