Plugable UD-3900 attached to the back of a monitor using our 3D-printed VESA mounted stand

Here at Plugable, customers frequently contact us asking for brackets, mounts, and other accessories to better adapt Plugable devices to their workflow and environment. We would love to accommodate them, but the needs are too diverse and the demand too small to justify mass production.

However, the introduction of cheap but powerful 3D printing devices has opened a new way to meet this demand. Inexpensive enough for a home or office environment, yet able to replicate sophisticated designs, these printers allow us to offer a variety of options to our customers that they can tweak to their own unique situation, then manufacture themselves.

I’m Justin Taylor, and I’ll be heading up Plugable’s first venture into this exciting realm. From September to June, I study industrial design at the University of Washington, but this summer, I’ll be Plugable’s first product design intern, tasked with bringing this idea to reality. Using SolidWorks 3D modeling software and a Lulzbot Mini printer bought for this purpose, I’ll be designing brackets and mounts for our popular products, to secure them, declutter work areas, while adding some visual appeal.

Over the next few months, I’ll design multiple styles and iterations for each product, and upload CAD files for them to, where your can download and print them on your own 3D printer. Working on this smaller scale lets Plugable avoid large fabrication and shipping costs, while still providing a wide array of options. I’m excited to use 3D printing to add a do-it-yourself flair to Plugable’s product line.

Throughout the summer, I’ll be blogging my progress and product releases here. The design process is full of drama, frustration, and triumph which often go unnoticed in the glossy final object. I hope to show a behind-the-scenes look at the retrospective realizations and tough lessons that take ideas from screen to reality. That said, I’m committed to great results. I hope my work can build a new excitement for our products and reward loyal Plugable customers with cool and useful accessories.

The 3D printing process

Our new printer has a 6x6x6 print area, and can use a wide range of plastic filaments. We could have purchased a larger printer, but we wanted a machine that mirrors the capabilities of the average hobbyist. The Lulzbot Mini has been a great machine, and I highly recommend it to anyone ready to take a serious step into 3D printing.

For my first project, I’ll tackle Plugable’s top seller, the UD-3900 Universal Docking Station. Key design considerations are resistance to lateral forces from the various cables, accessibility to both front and back, and minimizing time and material used. At first I explored the possibilities of a desk clamp, but shied away due to the wide variation in desktop widths. I decided instead to take advantage of the VESA mounts common on monitors. The desk clamp is still a direction to explore in the future.

Using VESA mounts is a neat solution because it provides immense stability—preventing the stand from being knocked over by an errant cable. My first design iteration was quite blocky. Since I was still relatively inexperienced with the capabilities of our printer and the strength of the plastic, I wanted a reference for the thicknesses needed for later designs. Designing the mount in two pieces gives the choice of using a VESA mount or simply placing the stand on the desk.

Mounting the UD-3900 to the back of the monitor frees up desk space

The first iteration helped me make better judgments regarding wall thickness and make adjustments to better secure the docking station. In the second iteration, I added rounded cuts to reduce material usage while also testing the printer’s ability to handle overhang. Despite a few minor errors, the cuts came out clean and add some visual complexity to the design. Feel free to download it. It’s ready to print!

The Plugable UD-3900 3D-printed mount also detaches from the monitor easily

Here’s the link for the UD-3900 Vesa Mount:

I am excited to begin this journey and I’d like to invite your participation. If you’re a dedicated Plugable customer and want to see some interesting accessories for your product, let me know! Your recommendations could easily turn into my project for the week.

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