Tuesday, December 29, 2015

I Plan to Keep on Blogging for Cube Owners

I'm having too much fun to stop now.

Being realistic, at my age, health is always a consideration.  But, as long as I can do so, I plan to focus on ways of making our 3D designing and printing lives richer and more fulfilling.

This means experimenting with Intel's new Real Sense scanning capabilities and learning new software applications like TinkerCAD and 3D Coat. 

It also means keeping in touch with 3D System's engineers so that if and when new firmware or software is released we will be on top of it.  Because I work with other printers as well as the Cubes, I understand that the goal is to come up with a single front end that will work with all of their 3D printing platforms.  I don't know if this includes the Cube line; but. if it does I will do my best to evaluate the pros and cons of switching to a different platform for slicing.

In short, I will be here for you as long as I am able.

Monday, December 28, 2015

While We Will be Supported, the Cube, Itself, is Discontinued.

I woke to a sad message this morning. 

While CubePro production will continue, the Cube series will no longer be produced by 3D Systems.  

Here is the press release making the announcement.

Supplies and support will still be available through 3D Systems, so we are not left high and dry. 

What I don't yet know is if they will continue to develop new types of filament for the 3rd Gen Cube.  As soon as I know more, I will pass it on to you.

Friday, December 18, 2015

3D System's New Direction...

You probably have already seen this announcement.

Dear Cubify Customer,
We’re excited to announce that we will be focusing on serving our customers in the education and engineer’s desktop markets in the new year.What does this mean to you? Just a few changes on where to shop!
  • Cubify.com will be moving to 3dsystems.com, effective Jan. 31, 2016.
    Don't worry, you can continue to find printers, software, scanners, cartridges, and accessories for your 3D Systems devices, as well as support, at 3dsystems.com
  • Paid retail products like phone cases and jewelry will be discontinued.
    Free downloads will still be available for you to print at home.
  • The “Design Feed” and “My Shelf” cloud storage will be discontinued on Jan. 31, 2016.
    Until that time, your Cubify App will sync all models from “My Shelf" automatically to your local computer when you open your app, login, and go to the “My Shelf” tab. Alternatively, files may be directly downloaded from https://cubify.com/account/myshelf until Jan. 31, 2016.
We thank you for your continued support and patronage.
Team 3D Systems

I'm also sure that you have questions as to how this is going to affect consumers who purchased Cube 3D printers.  While I am NOT a 3D Systems employee, I have asked that very question of some 3D Systems employees and think it will have little real impact on us.

Based on my understanding, this decision does not affect the future of either the Cube 3 or the CubePro.  It basically is just a shift from consumer focused marketing to a greater emphasis on targeting education and business (desktop engineering).  I suspect that this will mean that retailers will not be selling the Cube3 and sales will be handled more directly or through 3D Systems reps.

Support should not be affected at all.

It is also interesting that the free downloads will still be made available.

One thing, I think, that will change is the way products are announced and released. The Cube 3, right now, is a solid 3D printer.  But, we all remember the issues that resulted from releasing it before it was ready.  We remember it and so does 3D Systems..  And, they are committed to never seeing that happen again.

For the first time, since I first saw the 1st Gen Cube, I have participated and, hopefully, will be participating in several new product Beta programs.  Products will no longer be released simply due to pressure of product announcements.  New products are in the pipeline that will benefit all of us.  But, don't expect to hear about them until 3D Systems is confident that we can use these products reliably.

The Nylon filament for the CubePro and Infinity supports for the Cube3 and CubePro are examples of products that have undergone that kind of testing before being put into our hands and they have both been solid additions to our 3D printing experience.

I think the new organizational direction is a good one for 3D Systems without materially affecting any of its current owners.  I will not only keep this blog alive for consumers; but, will be expanding the coverage of 3D products that enhance our Cube3 and CubePro experiences.

You may also see more articles about 3D in education... particularly as it relates to at-risk students.  I'll be involved in a pilot with autistic students soon.  I will want to share what we find with parents.

Lastly, I'm sure all of us will be looking at CES to see if there is any mention of previously announced products like the CubeJet, CeraJet, ChefJet and CocoJet 3D printers.   I don't need a delivery date; but, I would like to know which ones are still on the table.  There is something seductive about the concept of eating what you 3D print!  :)

First Sense for Intel Real Sense Scans

Update:  When I notified 3D Systems about the issues I point out in this article, they indicated that they are being addressed.  As far as I know, only 1 Real Sense Win10 tablet has been released at this point.(The HP Spcete X2 that I am using) and one is to be released in January (The Lenovo MIIX 700).    The scan, therefore, mentioned in this article used a VERY early version of Sense for Intel's RealSense.  I will let you know when I get the updated version.  Even so, I am VERY impressed and happy to be using it.
 In my previous post, I talked about the new tablets being released with the Intel Real Sense R200 3D scanners.

I have made my first scans and I have to say they are impressive.  Just as before, with the Sense scanner, we have to be reminded that these are not $30,000 scanners.  So, anyone having notions that they can buy a tablet with a 3D scanner that will perform like a $30,000 is going to be sadly mistaken.

But, for those of us that look at price/performance ratios realistically, the scans from the R200 are impressive.

Currently, I know of two Win8/10 apps for 3D scanning with the Intel Real Sense cameras.  They are the ItSeez3D app and 3D System's Sense for Intel's RealSense app.


The ItSeez3D app is strictly for scanning people and it's tied to their cloud service.  While the test scan was quite impressive, I didn't have an account with ItSeez3D so I have nothing to show right now.  It is a bit slower than the Sense app; but, not so much that it was a show stopper.  More on ItSeez3D will have to come later.

Sense for Intel's RealSense

Having had some experience using the Sense scanner from 3D Systems, I had some definite things in mind to check with the new Real Sense technology... notably ears and hair.

First Scan from Intel's Real Sense 3D Scanner - Right Ear

I was VERY pleased with the outcome.  Ears and hair are a especially difficult to scan and, as you can see from the above image, the right ear came out perfectly!  But, most of us have TWO ears, so it's only rational that we should check out how well the left ear came out before crowing too loudly.

First Scan from Intel's Real Sense 3D Scanner -  Left Ear

Lo and behold!  Te left ear is perfect, too!

Now, for the hair test....

First Scan from Intel's Real Sense 3D Scanner -  Hair

While not absolutely perfect, the hair scan is still pretty amazing.  It's certainly better than my first Sense scans of a few tears ago.  So, I'm very pleased.  The shape is right and the color can be easily corrected.

Sense for the Intel RealSense - Export File Types

To be useful, the scans have to be able to be read or printed by other applications.  My focus here is on local editing and printing.  I'm interested in post-processing in Sculpt and printing with the Z-450 full color printer.  So, I exported as .OBJ, .PLY and .WRL.

Exported Files with Sculpt 

Sculpt can only import the .OBJ and .PLY files.  It crashed while trying to load the .OBJ and the .PLY came in without color.  This was surprising to me since I had worked with the original Sense scanner and Sculpt, in color, for some time.  So, I had to add MeshLab to the workflow as an intermediary to Sculpt.

MeshLab to Sculpt

Meshlab is a wonderful open-source program for dealing with 3D meshes.  I have long used it and, most recently, to allow me to prepared full color .PLY and .WRL files from .STL files for printing on the Z-450.

MeshLab was unable to open the exported  .WRL file. and, like Sculpt, it brought in the .PLY file without color.  It was, however successful at bringing in the exported .OBJ file in full color.  Unfortunately, the Z-450 is expecting to see either a .full color PLY or .WRL file.  MeshLab can perform the conversion provided the color system is correct.

After some experimentation, I realized that I needed to convert the 'Material' or "Texture" color, that is exported by the Sense app, to 'Vert' color.  I also had to resize the scanned image because it is, as one should expect, life sized.  While the printer's software can scale it, it is just easier to get the exact size we want right in the MeshLab package.  It's a two step process.  We first measure the original...

Measuring with MeshLab

And, then we scale to an optimal size using Filters > Normals, Curvatures and Orientation > Transform Scale.  

Scaling in MeshLab

The final step was converting the "Texture" color system of the .OBJ file to a "Vert" color system appropriate for the Z-450 and Sculpt .PLY file.  For this we use Filters > Color Creation and Processing > Transfer Color - Texture to Vertex.  

Texture to Vertex.

The transfer process does affect the character of the color.  And, there are tools available in both Meshlab and Sculpt to post-process the colors before printing.  We simply exported the filtered image as a PLY and brought it into Sculpt.

It worked!

RealSense/MeshLab 3D PLY (Vert Color) in Sculpt
Wishlist of Improvements in the Workflow

When Sculpt was introduced it was meant to mate, locally, with an FDM printer having limited color.  So, a SOLID model was perfectly OK.  But, at some point, hopefully, full-color powder printers like the previously announced CubeJet should become available.  So, being able to hollow out or "Shell" a model would be a very nice addition to the tool box.  I hear that it can be done in MeshLabs and I'll be looking into that to save material costs for Z-450 printing with our cadets.

First Scan Conclusions

While it would be nice if the Sense for Intel's Real Sense would port directly into Sculpt or a Vert Color .PLY or .WRL for full color printing.  However, the new level of accuracy and the benefits of being able to scan without dragging an attachment cord are such vast improvements over our previous scanning experience that we're not about to gripe about the few extra steps it takes to go from scan to print.

It turns out the that the M3 processor can handle the scanning and that is good news.  But, I would also like to test Real Sense on a smaller tablet.  The HP Spectra X2 is a 12" tablet and, while light, lighter would be even better for 3D scanning.  An 8" Win10 Real Sense tablet should be ideal.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Intel Real Sense Tablets with Win10 are arriving!

Our cadets and I have always enjoyed using the Sense scanner from 3D Systems.  But, the need for a cord made using it a bit cumbersome.  After all, the technique for scanning involves going in a circle around the target!

Not having any compatible iPhones or iPads meant that purchasing the iSense, which would have solved the problem, also required using an iPad that didn't fit into our 3D workflow.  The iPad, for instance, does not run the 3D design application we regularly use.

But, now there is an alterntive.  Both Lenovo and HP have (or are) introducing Win10 tablets that incorporate the new Intel R200 rear mounted Real Sense 3D scanning camera.  And, 3D Systems already has released an app similar to that we use with the Sense and iSense scanners.

True, we have to buy a new tablet; but, not only can we scan; but, we can install all the 3D applications we need to edit the scans and print them in one device.  While we will not actually be using scans in Moment of Inspiration, it's great that we can also use that application on these new tablets... giving us a very powerful 3D workflow.

My heart has been set on the Lenovo MIIX 700 with Real Sense for some time.  And, I wish I could write about our beginning to test Real Sense on the MIIX 700 platform.  Unfortunately for us, the MIIX 700 Real Sense versions will probably not appear until sometime in January.

The other option, which is available right now, is the HP Spectre X2 12-a001x,  It's available in 3 versions each with a different processor.  The one I will be testing is the Intel M3 version, the least powerful in the line.  It's actually pretty nice; but, lacks some features that make it my first choice.

We'll be testing it in the next few days.   If all goes well, we'll be using it heavily in YouthQuest's 3D ThinkLink Lab during our 3D Immersion classes in the first week of January.

The HP does not replace our desire to own the Lenovo for long term use.  For one thing, the Lenovo includes an HDMI interface and the HP does not.  And, there are some other reasons why it appears to be the best choice of the two.  But, timing is everything and the HP will give us an opportunity to check out Real Sense with both the 3D Systems app; but, also the ItSeez3D app.  I've loaded both and will be testing both.

Beware, the HP Active Stylus does NOT work with the X2.  So, don't bother buying it.  I'm trying to find out which "Wacom" compatible stylus does actually work.  Searching the support site and HP forums is no help at all.

Hopefully, in just a few days we'll have something to show.  In particular, I am anxious to try full body scans with the Intel R200 Real Sense camera.  It should be fun!


Best Buy offers a reduced price if you activate the build-in Verizon connection.  The activation is $40 and the monthly cost is around $35.  However, it took me more than FIVE hours to complete the transaction and it was NOT Best Buy's fault.  Verizon requires something called the "MEID" number and all that time was devoted to trying to found out from HP where that number could be found.  Usually, for phones it's on the box or on the back of the device and easy to find.  In the case of the Spectre X2 it is etched in very tiny text on the "kickstand" that is normally retracted into the screen!

There is no way to activate the device, to get the discount, without opening the product completely and removing the protective envelope.  That didn't affect me; but, if you want it for a gift that is not exactly a pleasant idea.  It will look like you are giving them an opened and used item.  Not good.  :(