Adventures in Stackability and Modularity

Stacking6

We’ve had several customer requests for mounts that can stack several of our HUB7BC and HUB7-81X hubs.
Both of these devices offer seven USB 3.0 ports, but with larger workstation setups, seven ports is sometimes not enough. While multiple hubs can work together electronically, a frustrating reality is that their cases do not stack neatly.

For the HUB7BC, I created a three-story bracket system. It works nicely because the brackets are strong enough to hold the devices in place, but also thin enough to stay out of the way when plugging in a USB cable. The front and back faces are open for easy access. It is a simple, and dare I say, elegant solution to the stacking problem. This thing is cool because everything fits perfectly in a very simple design—no frills, or gimmicks. This understated approach makes the end result all the more satisfying. I love it when every part of a design just works.

Stacking4

The mount is designed to hold three hubs, which seems like a reasonable number of ports even for our more industrious users. However, I also wanted to create a bracket that can stack any number of hubs to suit their needs. The solution is modularity, creating pieces that build upon each other in a consistent way, an idea that informed my later work with the 81x hub. These brackets work like building blocks for assembling a customized workspace.

My early designs for the 81x were unnecessarily complicated and relied too much on support material. To resolve this I divided the functions between several modular pieces. By using removable pins instead of building the attachment apparatus straight onto the bracket, I was able to slim the profile and remove protruding parts on the top. The pins also allow the brackets to be stacked and rotated in interesting ways.

Stacking2

The earlier design had a built-in overhang which was meant to secure the top of the hub. While this worked, I was worried that the need for support material might deter a more casual 3D printer user. After printing and stacking those prototypes, I realized that each piece lends itself to the hubs above and below. I made use of this by removing the tops of each bracket, and adding a separate top plate to hold all the brackets in place once assembled.

The final design effectively secures and stacks the hubs, and allows a high degree of customization. The user can simply print out and stack additional brackets as needed. Check it out!

Stacking1

In previous projects, I have favored curved, sloping shapes. However, this project is full of edges and sharp angles. This started out of necessity, because a gradual angle allows the printer to build out a platform. As the design progressed, I deliberately took this angular style to greater extremes. Curves and smooth edges convey a sense of comfort, but also run the risk of seeming to benign and slipping from our attention. Angular shapes are more aggressive and seem to sharply declare their own existence. I want my work at Plugable to get people excited about our products. The strong, deliberate facets are meant to catch the eye and invite further investigation.

On a completely unrelated note, I also made little USB keychain holders for use around our Plugable office. They work great for holding Bluetooth receivers and USB sticks. Check them out!

Stacking3

This post is part of an ongoing series about using 3D printing to enhance Plugable’s products. This summer Design Intern Justin Taylor is creating and testing CAD models of mounts and bracket systems for our various products. Here is the link to the growing archive of posts on this project

Leave a Reply