Like staring at a fire-camp or waterfall it can be hypnotizing to watch a 3D printer build a part layer by layer. After a while we realize that 3D printing is a slow process even for the fastest printers and it requires often multiples hours to complete a part. It is recommended to keep an eye on the machine while it is printing and it would be more efficient to do something else in the mean time.
Astroprint offers a solution to this problem with its Astrobox which recently succeded its kickstarter campaign.They define Astroprint as an OS for 3D printer; there are several models available, but one box to rule them all. Astroprint has also the power to add wireless to every compatible 3D printers. It’s printer control is available with any modern web browser on any device, phone, tablet, laptop. You can then monitor your 3d printer from anywhere.
In this guide
It is an open source software forked from the popular Octoprint and like many companies in the open source domain Astroprint offers a free plan and a premium one.
The free plan includes the option to install Astrobox on his own single board computer like the raspberry pi or pcduino and the following online services:
- Unlimited cloud slicing (Slic3r or Cura)
- Remote monitoring (local network)
- Remote control (local network)
- 10GB cloud storage
- 1 printer connection
In addition to the free plan, the premium plan includes a plug-and-play Astrobox kit ($ 149) and the following online services for $ 10 / month.
- Unlimited cloud slicing (Slic3r or Cura)
- Remote monitoring (local network and internet)
- Remote control (local network and internet)
- 50GB cloud storage
- Unlimited printer connection
Astroprint offers to choose between two well known slicers, Slic3r and Cura. On your Astroprint account, you can configure your printers and almost all Slic3r parameters. Astroprint proposes to automatically update slicer softwares and to set the best 3d printing settings by default. With the cloud slicing, 3d printer becomes truly autonomous.Download a 3d model and print it directly from a mobile device without touching a PC.
For those who already own araspberry pi I propose you to follow this guide to install Astroprint for free. The process is really easy so anybody can do it.
Create an account
Just go to the registration page and enter your email and password to create your account. You will have to login later on the Astrobox to connect to your account.
Install Astrobox on a Raspberry Pi
Minimum hardware required:
- Raspberry Pi type A, B or B+
- 8gb or more SD card
- power supply
- WiFi USB stick
- network cable
- compatible Webcam
In the case of a Rasberry Pi A or B it will be necessary to use a powered USB hub to connect USB devices such as WiFi stick, because the model A and B have few USB ports (4 for the B +) and they are not powerful enough.
1- Download Astrobox image.
2- Write the Astrobox image on the SD card.
For Windows, download an utility like Win32DiskImager
- Insert the SD card into your SD card reader and check which drive letter was assigned. You can easily see the drive letter (for example (H:\) by looking in the left column of Windows Explorer. You can use the SD Card slot (if you have one) or a cheap SD adaptor in a USB port.
- Download the Win32DiskImager utility and install it.
- Run the utility; you may need to run the utility as administrator. Right-click on the file, and select Run as administrator.
- Select the image file you extracted above at step 1
- Select the drive letter of the SD card in the device box. Be careful to select the correct drive; if you get the wrong one you can destroy your data on the computer’s hard disk! If you are using an SD card slot in your computer and can’t see the drive in the Win32DiskImager window, try using a cheap SD adaptor in a USB port.
- Click (Write) and wait for the write to complete.
- Exit the imager and eject the SD card.
On the Mac, you can follow the following instructions.
3-You can use the Astrobox in a wireless network or connect it directly to your router with a network cable.
Insert the SD cart in the Raspberry Pi slot and plug the USB peripherals before connecting the power cable.
Usually, when the WiFi USB key is plugged in the Pi, Astrobox should create a local network hotspot that you can connect directly from your computer or mobile device. This first connection is made to help you configure the Astrobox on the first use before connecting to your network. Unfortunately in my case the hotspot was not created and I used the following steps 3A and 3B to go around this problem. The normal process resume at step 4.
3A-I plugged the Raspberry Pi directly to the router with a network cable. I got to the list of devices connected to the network in the router admin page to get the IP address of the Raspberry Pi. This step may be different according to your router model.
3B-Open a web browser and paste the IP address of the Astrobox.
4-If everything is alright the configuration page should load. Back to the normal step.
5-You can then change the name of your Astrobox
6- The Astrobox should connect to the internet and ask your email.
7- You can connect and configure your printer now or later.
8-Select the connection speed (Baud Rate) of your 3d printer and click “Connect”
9-You should then get to the Astrobox user interface. If like me you have to connect your Raspberry Pi directly into the router to configure it, you still have a few steps to complete it.
10- In the top left corner there is the menu button from which you can access the “Settings”.
11- To configure the wireless network, go to the “Internet” section and click “Connection”. Then press “Scan WiFi nextworks” to detect your wireless network..
12-Select your WiFi network in the list.
13-You are now connected wireless and the IP address is indicated under “Wireless Connection” in this case 192.168.0.105. You can enter this IP address in the web browser to connect wirelessly and remove the network cable.
14-Once the printer plugged, you can go under the “Printer” menu to connect as mentioned above and set its “Profile”. In the case of the Solid Utopia V3 printer, you can specify the following configurations:
No. of Extruders =2
Max. Nozzle Temperature = 245
Heated Bed = oui
Max. Bed Temperature = 120
“Save Profile” and go back to the Astrobox home page.
Voilà, your Astrobox is now fully operational.
Using the Astrobox
1-You can “Upload File Print (.gcode)” directly to the Astrobox by pressing the button and select a file on your computer. The file then appear in the local files list. To delete a file, just click on it and select the trash icon.
2-Print your part with the print button.
3-The printer interface should appear, and the printing should begin.
You can then modify the extruder or bed temperatures and also pause or cancel printing if necessary.
4. If you have connected a camera, you can take a snapshot by pressing the capture button.
A drop down menu next to the capture button allows you to select the automatic capture frequency. All layers, every minute or 5 minutes.
It’s as simple as that.
Control the printer motion
5- To move your printer ready to print, navigate to the menu and select “Control.”
All buttons to perform movements or adjust temperature are available if the printer is not already printing.
This concludes the instruction to use the Astrobox.
Set up your Astroprint account
To go further and use online slicer you must login to your account and configure the printer and slicer.
1-Login on the Astroprint website.
2-The next page is the Astroprint interface. A menu on the left allows you to navigate through the different sections.
The dashboard contains a list of your 3D models and allows you to upload new files and slice them for print (Make a print file).
If you choose to upload a design files you have to know that Astroprint does not allows you to position your part on the bed or modify the orientation before slicing. The part will be positionned by default at the center and oriented by its xyz coordinates. You have to change the orientation of the part in the CAD software were you can also assemble multiple parts in one stl file.
3- The connected panel shows the different Astrobox connected to your Astroprint account. Each printers and cameras status are shown here. They may be printing or waiting, and if there is a camera connected a printing image is refreshed regularly.
4- The prints pannel lists the captures taken with the camera. Capture are presented in a slide show. Unfortunately Astroprint does not offer the possibility to assemble the captures in a sweet accelerated timelapse unlike OctoPrint. Good luck if you try to find the exact location where a print failed in a 10 hours print.
5- The printers panel contains the list of printers that you have configured.
- To add a printer, press the + button.
Select a printer from the list or configure yours yourself.
You can then give it a name and define its size, nozzle diameter, number of extruders and the presence of a heated bed.
Do not press on create yet.
7- Expand the “Advanced Printer Settings” section.
You can then choose the slicer that you prefer for your printer (Slic3r or Cura), the type of firmware you are using (in the case of Solid Utopia it is Marlin)
The start and end commands can be defined here.
8-The materials panel allows you to set the diameter of the filament and also the extrusion and bed temperature for the filaments available for each listed printer.
- Once all settings are set, you can navigate to the dashboard to select a model to slice. Select a 3d model and press “Make a print file”
You can then choose the printer and filament as well as print quality out of 3 choices.
Before clicking on (print Generate file), expand “Advanced Settings”
- Advanced Settings
11-Click on “Generate Print File”. A progress bar then appears and when that is completed you can then navigate to the connected panel.
- Select the printer that will print your file and click on “UI Launch AstroBox”. This will get you to your Astrobox UI.
13- Pressing “Sync” if necessary to retrieve the file you just sliced in the list of available gcode files. (it should appear in the cloud section)
14. Download the file you just sliced to your Astrobox by clicking the cloud-shaped button.
15. You can then press the print button to launch the print.
Note: By cicking on “Upload Design File (.stl)” you can send a file and slice it directly following the same steps described earlier.
Compared to OctoPrint, I found the installation easier and the web interface more suitable for mobile devices. The connection and camera recognition were made without configuration. However it is not possible to stream a live video of the printing and you have to press the capture button to see a snapshot. It is not possible to assemble the snapshot in a cool accelerated timelapse. Navigating through the capture one by one is quite unpleasant.
A big advantage of Astroprint is to offer the possibility to slice models in the cloud on powerful servers. The operation is fast and the options are numerous enough to allow most savvy to properly control the process. It would be appretiated to be able to put more than one part on the bed and be able to change their position and orientation. The product is still young and hopefully we will find these features in a future release.
It is thus possible to manage a 3D printer entirely from any connected device, phone or tablet.
Astroprint has the advantage of being compatible with a large number of printers whose electronic is open source and it interface design gives a professional look to any desktop printer. Besides, it is projected that compatibility will be extended soon to other neglected proprietary printers.
I hope this tutorial will be useful and that you make the most of your Astrobox. As always your comments are very welcome.
Have a nice print!