3D printing hands on: Customizing an audio console for the Broadband Studio

One of the more exciting aspects of 3D printing is how it can be used to meet your specific, unique needs. David Gewirtz details how he used 3D printing to help secure hardware for his Broadband Studio project.
Written by David Gewirtz, Senior Contributing Editor

One of 3D printing's greatest benefits is the ability to craft custom solutions for specific problems. As I moved forward in the redesign of the Broadband Studio, I discovered that the audio mixer wouldn't stay secure on its new platform. This proved to be an ideal opportunity for a 3D printing project.

As I described in Revamping the Broadband Studio, my main goal in the redesign was to make everything modular and reconfigurable. This is a huge change from the previous version of the studio, where everything was both fixed in its location and oddly precarious at the same time.

The audio console was to be the heart of the new studio design, holding not only the mixer and interface, but also the studio's Mac mini. It needs to be solid, flexible, and functional. Shortly after I built the console's cabinet, I put the mixer on the angled stand. I found that as soon as I moved the console, the mixer wanted to jump right off. Clearly, I needed to secure it.

To be fair, there's always duct tape, gaffer tape, and bungee cords. But I wanted to design something professional and aesthetically pleasing that would get a lot of use. Since I have a 3D printer, this presented a great opportunity to have the studio's functional needs drive the design of custom 3D printed objects.

There were two things I wanted to accomplish with this 3D print build. First, I wanted to secure the mixer. Second, I wanted to prevent the audio interface and the Mac mini from tipping backward due to the weight of cables attached to the back of the Mac mini.

I set out to design the two items. The bracket for the interface and Mac mini proved to be a relatively simple project. It was a bunch of slabs joined at right angles to each other.

As I was working on the design, I realized there was another problem I wanted to solve: the routing of cables from the front of the interface to the back. My solution was an arc that not only allowed for cable management, but also added an element of support to the bracket.

I found that support arc did not allow for easy access with a screwdriver. I subtracted a cylinder from the arc, which made the thing look really cool, gave me more surfaces to attach tie wraps to, and provided clearance for a screwdriver.

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The mixer was a more of a challenge, because it is a wedge shape. I would have to fashion brackets that were at the same angle as the wedge. The video that accompanies this article explains how that was measured and designed. The final result works really well.

One interesting outcome was the realization that my design idea for the lower support bracket was all wrong. The design I started with wouldn't fit over the lip on the console. It was secured with only one screw, which meant that the weight of the mixer caused the bracket to pivot on the screw and fall.

I wound up iterating through four designs, making changes to the CAD document and reprinting. The benefit of 3D printing is that, although it takes quite a while to print, I could set it, forget it, and come back later to see the results. If I had to fabricate these brackets using a milling machine (assuming I had the skill), I would have had to spend a lot more hands-on hours doing the forming work. Instead, the MakerBot did most of it while I slept or worked on other things.

All told, printing and iterating took about three days, but the actual time I spent on design was only a few hours. It took longer to make the video describing the process than it actually took to do the 3D designs in CAD.

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Finally, it's clear I'm not done designing 3D-printed special purpose brackets and supports for the studio. Already, as I move through other elements of the studio, I can see how little custom touches could make the working environment so much more efficient. With the 3D printer, those custom fittings and fixtures are not only possible, they're cost effective and fun to make.

Stay tuned. There are bound to be more 3D printed elements for the studio before I'm done. If you want to download the two brackets, you can find them on Thingiverse as Support bracket for Mac mini and Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 audio interface and Support brackets for Mackie PROFX8 8-Channel mixer.

By the way, I'm doing more updates on Twitter and Facebook than ever before. Be sure to follow me on Twitter at @DavidGewirtz and on Facebook at Facebook.com/DavidGewirtz.

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