In the lab: solving problems with a 3D printer


This isn’t our standard review article, but this article explores the fun (and practical?) Side of 3D printing and presents some impressions anyone can do for their homelab. Let me start by saying that we do not own any of the models that we have printed. All of the designs we have printed can be found on Thingiverse and will be linked so that everyone can have a look at the template and the original designer. For everything we printed, we tried to fit it into general use cases to give the best representation of what can be done.

This isn’t our standard review article, but this article explores the fun (and practical?) Side of 3D printing and presents some impressions anyone can do for their homelab. Let me start by saying that we do not own any of the models that we have printed. All of the designs we have printed can be found on Thingiverse and will be linked so that everyone can have a look at the template and the original designer. For everything we printed, we tried to fit it into general use cases to give the best representation of what can be done.

Why 3D printing in our laboratory or your Homelab?

Here at StorageReview, we get a lot of equipment, most of it from major IT vendors for review. But some projects need something a little different, so every now and then we’ve reached out to a local tech recycling association. In a recent case, we acquired a few servers for a project, but they did not come with any drive trays.

Instead of buying every drive tray OEM or trying to outsource a 3D printer to use, it was actually more cost effective to just buy a 3D printer. The 3D printer we bought was the Creality CR6-SE, which costs around $ 429. This printer arrived pretty much assembled right out of the box and was pretty much plug and play. Obviously there are going to be a few bumps with a 3D printer, but nothing too drastic in terms of the issues on our end. (We recommend that you use quality plastic, just to make your life easier).

Needless to say, we printed the reader caddies we needed, but the projects we were already working on started to add up, and the side project we used the printer on was pushed back. The printer was left on its own for a bit before seeing use again, which was for this article where we wanted to research productive use cases for the printer.

The Creality CR6-SE is a filament type printer. There are resin printers out there, however, in our opinion when it comes to simple things like homelab accessories a filament printer can be easier to use. Resin printers have more extensive setups and cleanings, so keep that in mind.

Our favorite models

The models we chose to print are what we think will be generally useful with multiple use cases. Every model that has been printed can fit into almost any homelab environment.

The first model we chose to print was a USB stick holder with support for SD and micro SD cards. The exact model can be found at the link here: USB SD and MicroSD support. We chose it as our first model because we thought it was something anyone could use as it doesn’t have a few extra flash cards available. The card holder makes it a bit easier to organize and track those pesky records.

USB SD and MicroSD support was a great first addition to our homelab models. Every USB stick and SD card we tested stayed stationary and held it tight. We had no problem printing this model and we didn’t change any of the settings on our slicer we used. All in all, this is a simple yet effective 3D printing, however, there are models that have more or less slits if needed.

The second model we chose to print was an Ethernet cable organizer. The exact model can be found here: Ethernet cable paths. This is a great thing to print, especially since the cable management can be a bit tricky and it will make cable management a lot easier. These cable trays can also be used for other cables, they should not just be Ethernet cables.

3d printed cable organizer

Our use case for Ethernet cable trays was not the end of our cable management. We have a fairly large lab here, so using simple cable trays isn’t always the best option. However, if these go in a small frame, they will fit perfectly with the different sizes offered by the designer.

The next model we chose to print was a bit specific to our lab but might be useful for others. The model was a pipe stand, which can be found here: Schlauchhalter, hose holder, cable holder. We know it sounds funny, but we printed it for a reason. Some cables such as fiber optic cables are fragile and should not really be bent. So we decided that a hose holder actually works best in our case. We made a few slight changes to it, we stretched one of the axes to give us an even greater curvature, however, printing it normally will work just fine.

3D printed cable holder

The Schlauchhalter, Hose Holder, Cable Holder is probably the most essential model we have printed. We’ve got a ton of cables and this simple model offers a great way to tidy them up, especially the ones that really can’t be bent. In our case, we are probably going to use a control strip on the back to stick it to the wall and therefore we have to make some holes. If wall holes aren’t a problem, the model’s screw hole looks pretty good.

The fourth model we printed is actually my favorite stackable hard drive carrier, which you can find here: HDD hard drive stacker. This model is really cool because it is an easy way to stack hard drives and offers a clip-on bracket that is compatible to hold a fan. We wanted to print this model because of its versatility. Some of the ideas we had for this would be to make it into a NAS or just use it as a way to organize hard drives.

3D printed hard drive carrier

When we printed the HDD hard drive stackers, they did very well. When fitting the hard drives into each stacker it was a bit tight, but better if they were tight to make sure they won’t budge. This feeling goes well with a future home NAS project that we could pursue.

The next model we printed is something pretty much anyone can use if they like working on tech or working with small parts. The model we printed is a screw top. It’s such a simple thing to print, and a great way to organize screws, nuts, or other small items that are easy to lose and hard to find. The template is available here: Customizable magnetic screw tray / box (with optional cover). What’s really cool about this template is the different size options that the designer has to print. We chose to go for the “screwdriver” option, which has different sized holes for different sized screws or other miscellaneous things.

3D printed screw top

The magnetic screw tray / box is a nice model to have. In fact, we printed two of them just so that we could have them in several different places. So when we take things apart or use small screws, we don’t lose them. This model also comes with a cover option, so it is very easy to carry additional screws, nuts, washers and rubber spacers. For assembly it requires 8 small magnets which are not hard to find, however, in our use case a cover was not required.

The last model we chose to print is M.2 SSD support. We thought about printing this template because of the many M.2s we have lying around that are probably more likely to be stepped on than used. This model is available here: PCIe SSD Bracket, 16 pcs. This model is the most simplistic we have printed, just a few spots in a bar, however, it gives us a better way to stay organized and not waste a bunch of M.2 that we have in the bins.

ssd m.2 support 3d printed

This model was more specific for us because a normal person probably doesn’t have 16 M.2s that need to be organized. However, it shows just how much anyone can customize their homelab. With a 3D printer, printing everything you need on demand is such an amazing thing, especially with how inexpensive 3D printers are getting.

Conclusion

These models are just a few of the things that can be printed for a homelab. With a 3D printer, the possibilities are almost endless when it comes to what can be printed. In our case, each of the models chosen works for us, that does not mean that it will work for everyone. Every situation and every homelab will be different, which is why a 3D printer is great. Plus, this guide will help you out if you have any of these toys for Christmas and need some ideas to get started.

The following models can all be found on Thingiverse:
1. USB SD and MicroSD support for large USB drives
2. Ethernet cable routes
3. Schlauchhalter, Hose holder, Cable holder
4. HDD hard drive stacker
5. Customizable magnetic screw tray / box (with optional cover)
6. PCIe SSD Bracket, 16 pcs

Our printer:
Creality CR6-SE

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