We are a team from the University of Kentucky Innovation Center, a small student run makerspace that is open to everyone on campus. After 3 years, our user base has grown such that tracking training and equipment usage with manual collection techniques is difficult. MakerManage is a bespoke solution to challenges we face that can be expanded and modified to fit the needs of any small-scale makerspace.
What it does
MakerManage is a software/hardware solution that integrates with existing equipment. Most 3D printers, routers, and CNC equipment run off one of several "flavors" of G-Code. Because of this any external device can be used to send command to a device. The MakerManage device interface connects to equipment and becomes a secondary control board that runs outside of the equipment's internal ecosystem, which means that it won't interfere with normal operations. RFID coins unique to each user are placed on the device which updates in our staff Trello boards allowing us to view who using a printer and if it has thrown any error codes. A "lock-out" tag can be used to lock the equipment down for maintenance or repair, and automatically updates the Trello with an off-limits tag.
How we built it
We used a Prusa MK3s printer for our generic test equipment and a Raspberry Pi as the control board. The Pi drives a 16x02 LCD screen that outputs status info, two LEDs that complement the LCD, and the RFID transceiver that reads the user chips. The Pi runs a web server that communicates with a second web server on a laptop. The web server on the Pi collects info from the peripherals and sends it to the web server on the laptop, which then communicates with Trello and Slack.
Challenges we ran into
The first challenge we faced was programming the RFID transceiver so that it was a non-blocking operation. Next was ensuring that the USB connection from the Pi to the printer was initialized only once, since every new USB connection causes the printer to restart, interrupting any existing prints. Finally, was the integration of all the discrete components we had developed up to that point into one congruous system due to the limited amount of GPIO, power, and connections that can be made to the Pi and the different communication protocols between the parts.
Accomplishments that we're proud of
We were able to produce a minimum viable produce in 36 hours that we would be proud to present as a viable prototype by implementing a few simple best practices and communicating effectively.
What's next for MakerManage
We are going to take this back to our makerspace and further polish the hardware components, and then begin to deploy this system at a larger scale to iron out network bugs.