Showing posts with label Cube 3D Printer. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Cube 3D Printer. Show all posts

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Great News for 2nd Gen Cube and CubePro Owners

I was recently sent a cartridge that fits the 2nd Gen Cube.  It came from a company called MakeShaper in North Carolina. 

I agreed to test a cartridge and those test have been completed.

Here is the result:

Test Print Using the MakeShaper Filament Cartridge
The first thing i noticed was that the moisture protection bag in which it is contained was much heftier than I am used to seeing.   I have had absolutely no problems with the cartridge.  Where it differs from the OEM version is that (1) it is held together with screws (T-10 Star) making it very easy to open and (2) it contains a pack of moisture protection tucked inside the cartridge.  Nice!

The cartridges for the 2nd Gen Cube are just $25.  And, those for the CubePro are just $65.  I have not tested the CubePro version.  But, at that price is sure looks like it's worth exploring.

The available colors in either PLA or ABS are:
  • Red
  • Blue
  • Green
  • Black 
  • White
Here is a link to the 2nd Gen Cartridge order page...

By the way, I failed to mention that they offer free shipping on orders over $50.

Cartridges can also be ordered by phone... 919-776-6925.

Monday, February 2, 2015

My Most Successful Colors

This post is designed to catch up on some observations, etc.

Filament Color MAY matter

I wanted to report that of the colors I have been able to obtain of PLA, the least troublesome, so far, have been black and tan.  That is not to definitively say that they are THE best colors; but, simply that I've had excellent results from these two colors.

I'm mindful that the colors may not be the issue at all.  3D Systems has instituted a rigorous testing program on all of their filament and it just may be that these cartridges were the first I owned under the new testing program.  Whatever the reason, I am grateful.

Storing Your Filament

As I've pondered filament, more than I actually care to over the last month or so, I've been impressed that it is going to be absolutely critical that we develop a more pro-activein our care of the filament we purchase.  The cartridges of the CubePro, for instance, actually have a little pocket to held a moisture reducer packet!

Both PLA and ABS deteriorate reasonably quickly in moist environments. 

So, I have decided that (1) I will not open a new color unless I am ready to use it immediately and (2) I will keep all opened cartridges inside a closed plastic storage box with a sizable package of moisture absorber.  The two I'm testing are DampRid and DryOut.  Both are available at The Container Store.  AirBoss is another option.

Print Quality of the Cube3 is Impressive

The print from the Cube3 is, by far, the best I've been able to achieve and I am not talking about printing in 70 micron layers.  I'm comparing the prints at 200 microns, and quite frankly, I like my Cube 3 prints better than the CubePro prints.  Of course, I get the CubePro prints considerably faster so it's a bit of an apples vs. oranges comparison.

One of the things I've noticed over the years about 3D Systems is that they are constantly improving a printer series within the same model run over time.  This was true of the Cube2 and I think I see that in the Cube3 printers YouthQuest has purchased that are of more recent origin than mine.  The differences are subtle; but, as much as I use all the printers, I can tell.

Multiple Cube3 Printers with Cubify Software

Aside from cartridge improvements, where I'm hoping big changes will come is in the Cubify software.  It doesn't appear to handle the existence of multiple Cube3 printers all that well.  So, that needs to be improved.  The first step might be to give us more manual selections like the ability to specify ANY filament type and color as we build a .cube file for export no matter what color is in a connected printer.  I have to unplug the printers to accomplish this now.

Remember to Check for Firmware Updates

Lastly, whatever you do, remember to check for firmware updates at least on a weekly level.  The Cube teams has been great about responding to our requests for features or refinements; but, we don't benefit unless we keep our Cubes updated.

I'd like to hear which colors you've found to be the best for your printer.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

From Want to NEED in an Instant

From the first time I saw the Cube 3D printer I was convinced that I NEEDED one.  Of course, the reality is that I WANTED one... a LOT!  :)

Now, for the first time, I TRULY NEED a Cube 3D Printer!

That change of status came about a week ago, today, on the second level of a parking garage in Washington, DC as I was headed to join some of the Youth Challenge cadets that I teach for the 3rd day of the  USA Science and Engineering Festival (USASEF).

The usual terminology is that one "suffers" a stroke.  But, in my case I "experienced" a stroke that resulted in weakness in my left side, some loss of control of my left hand and a new appreciation for God's incredible intervention in our lives for positive outcomes.

Two levels down in a virtually empty and unfamiliar parking garage, I had just pulled up to an elevator when the stroke hit.  The elevator turned out to be locked.  But, it had a large sign clearly identifying the elevator's location.  This allowed me to precisely let the 911operator know exactly where I was.  And, just as I dialed 911, a car pulled up.  It turned out that the wife in the car was a Physical Therapist for a hospital and took over the phone call as I sat down in my car as we waited for the medics, who miraculously arrived in minutes.  As the medics pulled me up and out via the steep garage ramp, she called my wife to tell her what was happening.

I certainly didn't know it at the time; but, God's hand was in the location of my stroke because the closest hospital was George Washington University Hospital which has an amazing stroke center and brilliant rehab therapists.

I am now home and doing very well with absolutely no cognitive affects and remarkable improvements in my ability to move my hand.   My hand and fingers are still weak, but, are improving by the minute.

This weakness is the very thing that changed my relationship with the Cube 3D printer from a WANT to a NEED!  I NEED some things to compensate for the control I've lost.  And, a primary example comes from the Cube itself.  My left hand does not have the strength, as yet, to hold the print plate while I apply the Cubestick glue!

It is the Cube, itself, that provides the solution.  I just needed to design a holder for the print plate that can be clamped to a table to solve the problem!

Print Table Holder for Single Handed Gluing

In just a few hours of printing, I can now apply the CubeStick perfectly!  And, this is just the beginning of creating tools to help me overcome any impediments that came from my stroke or help me in my therapeutic exercises.

I'm very thankful that my stroke was not more devastating.  I'm thankful that I was in the right place when the stroke occurred and that the right family pulled up next to me at precisely the right time,  But, I'm also thankful that I came home to a tool that can provide so much help to me as I recover so that my life can continue to be as normal as possible.

Little did I know, when I first saw the Cube 3D printer at 3D Systems 2+ years ago, just how important that wonderful 3D printer was going to be for me!  I appreciate the hard work of the Cubify team all the more and am thankful that the result of their hard work is making my life so much easier than it might be without it.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

A Merry Christmas to all New and Previous Cube Owners!

I'm hoping that our ranks increase dramatically on December 25.


We're happy to have you join us and look forward to hearing from you.  That also goes for those times when things don't seem to be going so well.  Working through issues is how we learn the most about our tools and our craft.

Cube Owners

This blog exists to serve all Cube owners... from those that bought the 1st Gen Cube to the newest of the new.

The good news for all 2nd Gen Cube owners is that the printer and software continue to be improved by firmware and software updates.  Each of my 2nd Gen Cubes is a much better printer today than it was when it was first delivered thanks to 3D System's commitment to continually improve the Cube.

Expect continued additions and improvements in the coming year.

Users have also helped to identify those things we can do to make our printing experience more reliable and precise.  For instance, in the coming weeks I will upload a new Cube Print Table Leveling Tool that dramatically helps check that your Cube's print bed is perfectly level and makes the job of bringing it back into level a whole lot easier.

Sense Owners

My excitement about the Sense 3D Scanner remains unabated.  Let me know if you found a Sense under the tree this year.  The combination of the Sense Scanner and Cubify Sculpt is extremely powerful.  For me, the Sense is primarily going to be about saving memories in a whole new way by creating various types of 3D portraits and sculptures.

As I write this, two Cubes are printing frames for some cameo-style portraits that were created with the Sense and Sculpt.  They will be part of a unique gift to friends and family.

As soon as I have thoroughly tested it, I will be uploading a frame that mates a Sense 3D Scanner to a MIMO 7" USB touchscreen monitor.  It makes the task of scanning a LOT easier.  I'll post a video that demonstrates it.

The Coming Year

I've worked for the Justice Department, the military and NIH.  RICO cases, secret aircraft and health systems demand high security.  But, to be honest, I have not found any organization that is able to keep a secret about new products as well as 3D Systems.  I had NO idea the Cube, 2nd Gen Cube or Sense was coming before the public announcement.  So, I have no idea what is in store for us this coming year.

All I know is to expect something good.  And, that CES, in January, is a good time to pay attention.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Cubify Sculpt Tutorial #3: The Beauty of Emboss Area and Texture Maps

I mentioned Emboss Area and Text Maps in a previous post.  I expect to explore these two features in many more tutorials.  They are SO powerful and make adding ornamentation SO easy that it truly makes designing in Sculpt child's play!

When I first heard that the president of 3D Systems was committed to the democratization of 3D printing and design, it was difficult to know if it was a sales slogan or a fundamental core value.  With the introduction of Cubify Sculpt, I now know that it is definitely a fundamental core value and a true commitment.  Cubify Sculpt has the potential to bring 3D design to just about every age group and just about every level of technical competence.

As an educator that taught from 1st grade to high school students, I always hoped that someone would create a product that could be used at the elementary level as well as the higher grades.  While younger students might not be able to create great works of 3D art with Cubify Sculpt, I am convinced that the feature set WILL allow them to successful create nice objects to be printed on a 3D printer.

Cubify Sculpt has the potential to be a major tool for school projects in STEM, Art, Geography and other disciplines.  In this video we show how a simple 2D STENCIL and TOPOGRAPHIC MAP are easily turned into Texture Maps to create reasonably complex 3D features. 

As you can see, a simple paint program can be used to create a tool to be used with EMBOSS AREA to complement any shape.  The fact that Texture Maps WRAP make them particularly powerful.

Cubify Sculpt has exceeded my expectations in a HUGE way.

Cubify Sculpt Tutorial #2 - Setup and Potter's Wheel Simulation

I'm simply amazed that I have been able to actually complete some demonstration projects so quickly in Cubify Sculpt.  I can assure you that this would not have been possible in any of the other sculpting applications I've tried to learn in the past.

One of the first upgrade features that I asked for when I first opened Cubify Sculpt was the ability to manipulate the clay in the fashion of a Potter's Wheel.  Well, it turns out that we can do just that using some hot keys or, I hope, by using a Spaceball type of device.  I've been told that the SpaceNavigator device can be used to spin objects with one hand as the other is used to sculpt.  But, we don't have to wait until a SpaceNavigator arrives to test the concept.

It turns out that the ARROW KEYS can be used to spin the object a specified number of degrees and by holding down the ARROW KEY we can do so continuously.

Here is a video that shows the concept!

The image used for the video preview is the SpaceNavigator.  I have ordered one and should have it by next week.  I was under $100 and I am looking forward to seeing how well it works!

The combination of being able to start with an STL, like the chalice, which is VERY easy to create in a CAD program; but, slow to create in a sculpting application and the having the ability to quickly add features while spinning the piece is a VERY powerful capability.  The ARROWS and other Hot-Keys are good things to explore.

I love it!

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Cubify Sculpt - Emboss/Texture Maps: A Power Tool Combination

One of the problems I've had with previous sculpting tools I've tried is just how long it takes to make something useful in an educational setting.  If all we had were Push/Pull style tools, that would be true of Cubify Sculpt.  But, it's worth taking a look at the EMBOSS AREA tool and particularly the CUSTOM (with TEXTURE MAPS) option.

In fact, a good number are included with the Cubify Sculpt install, in the PATTERNS directory under the directory where Cubify Sculpt is installed.

Any black & white bitmap image having various levels of gray can be used with the Emboss Area tool.  The lighter the area, the higher the embossing action.  White areas will emboss the highest and black will not be raised at all.  The shades in between will be raised higher as the color moves to white and lower as the color moves toward black.


My main reason for exploring this feature so early is that a number of people have asked me about using the Cube / 3D Printing in an elementary school setting where the time allotted to teaching a 3D creation is limited.  At first, I was skeptical that Cubify Sculpt would meet that requirement,

But, the more I have explored the concepts of "TEMPLATES" (pre-designed basic shapes to be modified) and "Texture Maps" (pre-designed embossing stamps), the more I'm convinced that Sculpt would allow teachers to integrate 3D printing in just about any classroom.


From my high school days, one of my most consistent hobbies has been protozoology.  Some people watch birds, I watch protozoa.  In the late 1970's I taught Junior High Science and so it was natural for me to begin the exploration into how EMBOSS AREA could be used to provide a jumpstart for a student to design their own protozoa models.  For a future article, I will create a tutorial showing how the Texture Map was created and used.  But, for now here are images that show the Texture Map on the left and the final model on the right.

Amoeba Texture Map (Bitmap)

The above image was created in a 3D paint program.  Any, paint program can be used.  The important thing is that lighter areas will result in higher embossing and the black areas will not emboss at all.

Here is the above picture side-by-side with the resulting 3D object.

3D Amoeba Created From Texture Map

Here is another view that demonstrates the embossing a bit better. 

Amoeba Model at an Angle

The bumps in the surface were added after the emboss created the basic shape.  The embossing was done on the surface of a cube and then the cube was cut away using the REMOVE CLAY WITH BOX tool.  While the Texture Map was used like a stamp on the surface of the cube, there was still plenty of design modifications, such as lumps, bumps and indentations to the surface that the student could add.  Older students could have even created the Texture Map itself.  In fact, the Texture Map could even be created using a microscope image of a real creature!  Just convert the color image to black & white.

Finished Amoeba

The beauty in the fact that we can use gray scale images to create 3D features is that the images can be created in a variety of ways, including mathematically   Again, this isn't great art.  But, it DOES demonstrate the usefulness of Cubify Sculpt in a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering & Math) program. 

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

The Care and Feeding of the Cube 3D Printer (Video)

I've been wanting to create some better videos about the Cube 3D printer, itself.  This is the first attempt in that direction.

I have received a number of emails from users that have described this or that issue they've had with their Cube printer.  Some have had clogged heads and others have asked about the using the CubeStick glue to best effect.  This video covers the following topics...

Setting the Head Gap

Nothing will clog a 3D printer faster than when the print jet is hitting the print bed.  Yet, we need a very small gap to ensure that the first layer of filament is properly laid down on the print bed.  A TWO STEP process for setting the gap is demonstrated along with the paper I've found that works the best for me.

Applying CubeStick

One of the most challenging thing for me, when going to the new 2nd Generation Cube from the 1st Generation Cube was the different behaviors of the two different glues.  The first generation Cube used a heat activated glue and, frankly, was a LOT easier to use both before, during and after the print job.

I found that I was having a LOT of trouble getting parts to stick immediately after I'd cleaned the print bed.  And, I didn't realize that by trying to solve the problem by applying thicker coats of glue only resulted in transferring glue to the little rubber cap over the print jet... essentially gluing the flowing filament to the cap and not the bed.

Finding the proper gap helped.  But, finding a more reliable system for applying the CubeStick was the real solution.

A Tip When Changing Cartridges

For a long time, I created some problems for myself because I did not understand the correct timing for pulling on the filament when removing it to change cartridges.  When the Cube team explained the steps of the process that the Cube takes when removing filament, I came up with a visual clue for myself that allowed me to more easily go with the flow when removing filament.  The result is no more instances of broken filament inside the print jet!

The Correct Way to Insert the Cartridge

While teaching a 3D printing class at Freestate Challenge Academy, we had two different instances where the little metal contacts in the cartridge slot were broken as the student loaded cartridges.  From this experience, we learned two things.  (1) The correct process for inserting the cartridge and (2) how to solder in replacement contacts.  We will show the latter later.  But, for now, this video demonstrates the SAFE way to insert new cartridges to avoid the potential for breaking the contacts.

The Video...

This is the first of the videos that I hope to bring you regarding the Cube 3D Printer, itself.  As will be clear, I do not write a script.  So, you will hear some obvious errors... such as when I talk about lowering the head when I really mean the bed.  But, I'm trusting that the information is useful enough that you will forgive my slips here and there.  I have to do these videos and tutorials in the limited time that I have to do them.  So, perfection is NOT an option.  :)

I have made the difficult decision to use the YouTube "Monetize" option to help offset the costs of the investment required to bring a higher quality of videos to you.  I know that it's annoying. But, hopefully you will find some of the products and services advertised useful enough to click on at least some the ads.

That investment, by the way, included a new Panasonic HC-X920 video camera and new LED 100WA-56 / LED 200WA-56 lights.  I mention this because these products have only recently been introduced and some of my fellow members of the DPReview forums have expressed an interest in seeing how well they perform. 

If you have the bandwidth, try viewing the video in HD 1080p, to see why I feel that investment was well worth it.  I love this combination!

Well... with that said... here is my first 2nd Generation Cube video!

Monday, May 13, 2013

Avoiding the Tug-o-War When Unloading the Filament

If you have changed a cartridge in the 2nd Generation Cube, you've probably noticed that it can be pretty difficult to pull the filament back out of the head.  Chances are, if you have experienced this, the cartridge you are trying to change was PLA.

PLA melts at a different temperature than ABS plastic.  And, that means that it also solidifies at a lower temperature than ABS.  And, THAT means that if the material is not thoroughly heated before having the mechanism back it out, it could cool too soon and break... causing a real clogging issue.

So, the unload strategy for the Cube when using PLA is to first drive the filament DOWN into the heating tip, bring the temperature up and only then reverse the gears to start backing the PLA UP and out.

But, the current LCD message we get does not accurately reflect that timing reality.

It tells us to pull NOW... putting us into a tug of war with the Cube.

My fight with the filament gear has been almost comical as I've dutifully followed the message to pull up on the filament while the filament gear is obviously trying to eat the filament!  Not one to avoid a fight, I've even tried using some pliers to exert my will over the seemingly recalcitrant Cube... to no avail!

Now I know what is really happening and why.

It's simply a messaging and timing issue.  Instead of immediately pulling, we can relax for a few minutes and let the Cube do its thing.  We need to be "one with the Cube".  And, that means that we should wait a bit before trying to pull the filament out of the print head.

But, how long?  Since the message on the LCD tell us to pull up right away, we need some clues as to when we should actually begin pulling up on the filament.

Sharpie to the Rescue!

What I now do is to make a little mark with a Sharpie on the filament just above the line where the filament enters the head.  I then follow the direction of the mark to give me the clue as to when the filament is finally being reversed back out of the head.  At first, it will be lowered into the filament channel for that extra heating we mentioned.  But, once the heating step is completed, you'll see the mark rising up and back out of the filament channel.

That is the time to start pulling.

3D Systems has been great about changing the user messages on the LCD to make the operation of the Cube ever easier for users.  Hopefully, we will see changes to the message concerning unloading so that we can simply wait for the appropriate message to tell us exactly when it's the right time to pull without fighting what is happening internally.  That is the beauty of the Firmware update process.

In the meantime, the Sharpie is my friend.  :)

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Hello Flowers! Amazing Interface for 3D Content Design

Not all 3D content is suitable for printing on our home 3D printers.

That's a shame.  Because, the iPad app that I'm going to talk about now is a marvelous 3D application with the most intuitive interface that I've ever used.

The app is called Hello Flower.   It's the work of a small two person company called Hello Enjoy.

There is no doubt that 3D printing is coming to homes and schools in a huge way.  It's inevitable.

But, 3D printers are just piles of parts without the apps and software that enables and empowers users to create the content to be printed.  And, when it comes to software, that is to be easy to use for the widest audience,  control structures and interface is everything.  And, Hello Enjoy knows control structures and interface.

It was hard enough to find people that truly understood how to make 2D graphic design easy on a computer.  3D adds a lot more complexity to the task of creating tools that are easy to use.  Carlos Ulloa and Libertad Aguilera have hit it just about perfectly for their application that allows users to design their own 3D flowers.  It's a gorgeous application.

The images can be saved as.OBJ, I doubt that they would print well because they create such delicate features.  But, that doesn't keep me from longing to see Hello Enjoy create an application specifically for creating unique works of abstract art that is suitable for printing.  The almost unlimited ability to reshape, segment and twist should create some amazingly unique and beautiful work.

Come back later and I'll have some images to share.  I'm using an Apple to compose this post.  And, I am Apple challenged.  But, as soon as I'm back home, I will upload some samples and talk more about the interface features that I love so much.

But, I definitely wanted to immediately let you know about this amazing app as soon as possible.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

The Significance of the Cube to 3D Printing

One of the things that's nice about being a bit older is that you have some history to look back on to help put things into perspective.

Most people with even a remote interest in 3D printing probably don't remember the days of Heathkit, Allied Radio, Lafayette Radio and the early days of Radio Shack, then best known for parts and kits.  Nor, do they remember that the earliest sound systems and computers came in the form of kits.

But, there is a lesson to be learned from this ancient history.  And, that is that useful technologies often begin with hobbyists; but, don't really flourish until they begin to be delivered as fully assembled and finished consumer products.  We are probably at the end of the maker-hobbyist domination of the 3D printer market and are rapidly entering the dawn of the consumer 3D printer phase with all the good things that follow such a transition.

Let me explain.

I remember, vividly, in the early 1970's sitting in the living room of a friend as he proudly displayed the HUGE set of speakers he had built.  The cabinet was plywood with a maze of internal baffles to get the most out of the enormous woofers, mid-range and tweeter speakers all precisely arranged.  It had taken hours upon hours to build and it was clear that he thought he had produced the ultimate in Hi-Fi (High Fidelity) reproduction.  And, he probably had.  He was justly proud, since he was probably one of a hand full that could boast such fine acoustics.

Today, however, that same level of sound quality can be had by virtually anyone.  And, it doesn't require us to take up half the living room!  It comes in packages as small as 4"x4".  In fact, most automobiles probably offer better sound. 

Like many in that period of time, I built things like mixers, amplifiers and even what pretended to be a computer.  In both the audio and the computer worlds, I was there as the technology moved from the hobbyist stage to gaining wide acceptance in every facet of society.  Both "Hi-Fi" and computer power are so widely used and appreciated that we almost take them for granted.

Bridging the gap...

I mentioned Heathkit, Allied Radio and Lafayette Radio along with Radio Shack.  It is significant to note that of these four companies offering kits to hobbyists, only Radio Shack remains.  That is because Radio Shack, rather than resisting the inevitable market shift from hobbyist to consumer, embraced it.  The first Tandy computer was envisioned to be a kit.  But, fortunately, its primary designer convinced Radio Shack to release it as a fully built system named the TRS-80.  Radio Shack had, thus, bridged the gap.  As a company it had one foot in the electronic kit marketplace and with the other foot had stepped out of the kit builder space and into the domain of the average consumer.  One no longer had to know how to solder to learn to use a computer.

3D Systems has done a remarkable thing in bridging the gap when it comes to 3D printing.  First, they bridged the gap between the expensive high end 3D printing world that they already knew very well and put one foot into the hobbyist/builder market through their acquisition of some 3D kit manufacturers and a company called Desktop Factory, which was aiming to produce a small format 3D printer for under $5,000.  But, then they took another step across an even greater gap with the design and release of the Cube 3D Printer, which is clearly the first 3D printer designed from the ground up to be purchased for the home by anyone, including those without any building skills.

The Case for the Case and the Cartridge

I once had the privilege, back in the early 1980's of working with not one; but, many very creative people.   The genius that put together this incredibly innovative team was David Judd Nutting.  I've already mentioned one of his books and will, in a future post, talk about another.  But, one of the things that Dave writes about is product empathy.

The best way to describe product empathy is to say that it is the feeling most of us get when we see something like a favorite Corvette model or the Gull-Wing Mercedes.  It's that intangible thing of beauty that makes some designers household names to the point where we look forward to their next new designs.  It is what draws us to a favorite purse, pair of shoes or tea kettle.  It's an emotional response that all great designs elicit.

As far back as 6 years ago, I know that it was just a matter of time before someone, somewhere would finally deliver a 3D  printer design that had that quality of producing the level of product empathy to the point its appeal would go beyond the limits of the hobbyist market and take 3D printing to a whole new level of consumer acceptance.

I distinctly remember, on my visit to 3D Systems last February, saying, "That's it.  That's what I've been waiting for."  For the first time, I truly had product empathy for a 3D printer design and I knew that others would feel the same.  For me, it was all about the design of the case and cartridge.  It encapsulated the functionality and revolutionized the way 3D printers would be viewed by the public.

Again, there is precedence in history.  Audio tape only became widely used when the cassette was introduced.  Video tape only became accepted by consumers when the tape was put into a cartridge with the advent of the VHS recorders and camcorders.  Without both the case and the cartridge, the Cube would have been just another 3D printer that happened to be a very good value.

While I have no way of knowing the numbers of Cube printers that have been sold, I do know that the readership of this blog was steadily increasing and suddenly surged with the introduction of the Next-Gen Cube last month. I'm assuming that the product empathy factor was raised even further by the steps that 3D Systems took to become the first 3D printer to be approved by UL for the home and children.

Why is this important to the world.

As I have repeatedly said, for me, 3D printing is NOT about printing cheap plastic objects.  It is about helping us to realize, in tangible form, what our minds visualize.  It is, perhaps, the single most valuable tool I have ever encountered to increase creativity and actually build new brain connections in astounding ways.  It is no accident that Virginia Tech named their 3D printing center the Dreams Lab and that the DreamVendor, a 3D printing kiosk is in non-stop demand.

By recognizing the importance of product empathy, whether they called it that or not, 3D Systems has done what Radio Shack did for computers in 1977... moving the availability of computing power from the kit builders to the rest of us.  3D Systems has, forever, opened the door to 3D printing for all of us.  And, the result, I predict, will be an explosion of new levels of creativity in our young people and new products and opportunities that would never have been otherwise.

Ken Mammerella, a writer for the Wilmington News Journal started out his article on 3D printing with the words,  "Tom Meeks cannot contain his praise for 3-D printing".  He follows that with "Whitney Sample, a research design engineer at the Alfred I. duPont Hospital for Children, is equally effusive."  And, then includes these words, "Jack Gillespie, director of the Center for Composite Materials at the University of Delaware, believes 3-D printers promote education and innovation for children. It “really gets them to be creative at very early age,"

I am not alone in my belief that 3D printing will have significant impact on the creativity and lifelong outcomes of our children.  And, I am very thankful that 3D Systems had the vision to look well beyond their comfort zone of business-to-business marketing and not only design a 3D printer that we could afford; but, one that had that magic ingredient... product empathy.

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Assessing Value vs. Absolute Capabilities

I've been hard at work designing, what for me, is probably my most exciting Cube project to date... an iPhone to Microscope adapter.

Along the way I have had to address various design issues within the capabilities of my first generation Cube.

At the same time, Chris and Mike, two extremely astute Cube users, have been doing their own research into the behaviors of their Cubes and we've been carrying on dialogs via email or through comments on this blog about their findings.  As I pondered what we were discovering, it dawned on me that all of us were pushing the Cube beyond the purposes for which it is designed.  And, while I don't think that is a bad thing, I do think we must always keep that in perspective.

Perhaps the best way to illustrate what I am trying to say is to introduce you to some of the microscopes that I own and explain how I view the VALUE of each within a PRICE/PERFORMANCE context.  It's useful to make some comparisons between various microscopes in my stable of scopes from C & A Scientific.


When most people think of microscopes their immediate image is of a compound microscope, so we will start there.  Each of the compound microscopes we'll examine for VALUE is designed and priced for a specific target market.  Very young users, student users and professionals.  Let's start at the top, with the MRJ-03T.

C & A Scientific MRJ-03T

This probably the most expensive of my microscopes.  And, clearly it has the best optics and the smoothest overall operation.  For the money it is an exceptional value and I have fitted it with a Dark Field condenser for studying protozoa.  From a PERFORMANCE point of view it is clearly better than one of the lesser expensive student compound microscopes... like this one, the MS-03L

C & A Scientific MS-03L

This microscope is less than half the cost of the MRJ-03T.  Yet, from the point of view VALUE or PRICE/PERFORMANCE ratio, they are equal in every respect.  In fact, I probably use the MS-03L a great deal more than my MJ-03T because I love the fact that I do not have to plug it in.  It uses LED lighting and the optics are excellent for the cost.

But, as great as it is in terms of value, I cannot expect it to meet the more stringent requirements that can be met with the MRJ-03T.  It's more difficult to mount a camera, since it is not a trinocular design.  More importantly, I cannot mount a dark field condenser on a student scope.  To expect it to perform at the level of the MRJ-03T is just plain unfair.  It is far better to realize the great value it represents for the market for which it was intended.


When I think of VALUE when it comes microscopes I invariably think LOW-POWER STEREO.  Of all my microscopes I use this type most often.  I even use then to test for print characteristics of my 3D printers!

Again, let's start with the most expensive that I own, the trinocular SMZ-04.

C & A Scientific SMZ-04

This microscope sits on my desk, right beside me, at all times.  I love it.  Look through this blog and you will see images that have come from this scope using various dedicated digital microscope cameras.  It zooms from 10x-40x and the trinocular feature allows for easy attachment of a microscope camera.  It is a great VALUE for those needing the highest performance from a stereo microscope.  But, what about a student stereo microscope that cannot zoom and is not a trinocular design like the SMD-04 that costs about 1/10th the price of an SMZ-04?

C & A Scientific SMD-04

What you are seeing in the above image is what I consider to be THE greatest VALUE in terms of PRICE/PERFORMANCE of any microscope available today.  Sure, I could gripe that it's made of plastic and fixed at 20x.  But, that's the point!  It was designed to be able to be sold at a cost that consumers could afford while still providing excellent optics FOR THE MONEY.  Before the SMD-04 was introduced the cost of a stereo microscope was prohibitive to most consumers.  Now, I can tell any parent that this is the best microscope they could purchase for their child because it can do so many things.  The LED lighting means that you can even take it to the woods or beach to study nature up close and personal.  The cost is so low that even if if should be dropped and damaged, it's easily replaceable.

I believe in the high VALUE of this little microscope so much that I'd donated cases of them to my granddaughter's school and the Delaware Nature Society's Ashland Nature Center!

Yet, I have to be realistic about not expecting this wonderful scope to deliver beyond the criteria of its design.  And, that brings us back to the Cube 3D printer.


I have other microscopes from C & A Scientific that range in price and capabilities from the very bottom to the very top.  And, I consider each of them a VALUE in terms of their PRICE/PERFORMANCE ratio.  What I tell people, when they ask about a particular scope, is that it is a great VALUE FOR THE MONEY and for its INTENDED MARKET.

By this criteria not a single one of my microscopes would a waste of resources as long as the user did not expect more of the product than that for which it was priced and designed.  Yet, they clearly have widely varying features and capabilities.
I can't say this about microscope cameras... which is why I have worked hard to create an iPhone to Microscope adapter.  But, that is for another post!  :)

I know.  It would be wonderful if a $1299 3D printer could have the accuracy of a top of the line milling machine.  But, then it wouldn't be a $1299 3D printer.  It would have to be many multiples of that cost.

The Cube is designed to bring the benefits of 3D printing into the home and school environment at a reasonable cost.  And, it uses techniques and materials that allow it to deliver 3D printing at that cost.  But, these materials (plastic) and techniques (melting plastic) come with some very real benefits and limitations.  The Cube's accuracy is, at least to some extent, dominated by physics.  When plastic is melted and it cools, it contracts.  That's simple physics.

In the near future we will be talking about some of the observations that we have made about the performance of the cube related to accuracy, etc.  But, these should always be considered in light of  (1) the original market for which this 3D printer is designed and (2) the COST/PERFORMANCE ratio... or VALUE of the printer within the design goals for the target market for which it was intended... NOT a use for which we are trying to make it work outside of that design goals.

Yes, we are going to try and push the envelope of the Cube and the Cube materials.  But, rather than complaining that it cannot do what it was never designed to do, we will try to find ways to come CLOSE to simulating, through our own design techniques, the performance of more costly 3D printers.

So, like the SMD-04, I consider the Cube 3D printer, and in particular the Next-Gen Cube 3D printer to be the best VALUE in 3D printing for families and educational institutions available today.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Welcome Improvements in the Cubify Site

It will have been one year ago, the first week of February, that I trekked from Kensington, Maryland to Rock Hill, South Carolina to see the Cube for myself.  By that time, I'd had a chance to try out the Cubify web site and had a lot of questions regarding the direction in which they appeared to be going.

In particular, I know that most, if not all, of 3D Systems core expertise was in business-to-business marketing.  My fear was that they, like many companies with that limited core expertise, were going to find it tough going in the consumer marketplace.  And, from what I initially saw on the Cubify site at that time, that fear seemed to be well founded.  Frankly, while I came away from those meetings with a real excitement about the Cube, I can't say I had the same enthusiasm for the Cubify web site.

Months went by before I began to see that they WERE "getting it".  And, now, just one year after they revealed, I am fully convinced that 3D Systems IS one of those rare business-to-business companies that CAN and HAS successfully learned how to market to home users.

The change, I believe, when I listen to members of the Cubify team talk, and see their new product offerings, is that they have grown from equating 'consumer' marketing with 'mass' marketing, to evolving to see that the consumer is not some big people aggregate; but, is made up of unique individuals that respond to products and services with individual aspirations, skills and needs.

I was thrilled when 3D Systems purchased MyRobotNation as part of the Cubify family.  To me, that was a stroke of genious.  My grandchildren and I had already enjoyed the My Robot Nation experience well before the news that they had been acquired.  If there was ever a company that "got it" when it comes to offering the consumer a unique and pleasant buying experience, it was My Robot Nation.  For 3D Systems to see that potential as part of their own transformation into the consumer marketplace was brilliant.   And, connected or not, the transformation of the Cubify web site and the Cubify experience has seemed to blossom from that point forward.

What brought all this to my mind is that yesterday 3D Systems and announced that they were teaming up with to allow users to "join the Star Trek crew" with a customized figurine having their own face on it.  Very cool!  Here is the link to the blog entry.

What struck me, when I saw this, was that in just one year 3D Systems and the Cubify team have covered a LOT of ground and made tremendous strides in delivering appealing content as well as hardware to each of us as individuals.  They are marketing to our uniqueness and that is a winning formula.

Star Trek was not one of my favorite television programs when it came on in 1966.  In fact, personally, I never had much interest in it.  But, from the first, I have been fascinated by the loyalty and passion of those that embraced it.  I was teaching in 1969 and I vividly recall one 3rd grader that would run around the school yard with a TV controller pretending it was a phaser!  He tried his best to make his pesky science teacher disappear into molecular mist.  LOL!

Fortunately, TV controllers make for very poor phasers.  I didn't disappear and we still keep in touch.  :)

The point is that there was something about the Star Trek consumer experience that touched individuals in a such a powerful way that close to 50 years later the brand is still young and fresh!   That is nothing less than magic!  And, something tells me that is showing signs that they have found some of that same wonderful magic.

And... I expect a whole lot more to come! 

Monday, January 7, 2013

New Cube 3D Printer - 2nd Generation

The Cubify blog has a brief description of the new Cube 3D printer that also includes this photo.

ICube 3D Printer - 2nd Generation

Here is the description...

Meet the new Cube – the second generation at-home printer that can make anything you can imagine up to 5.5 inches cubed. Keeping all the features that are loved from the original Cube like the easy touchscreen UI, the new Cube printer now prints at 2X better accuracy and 1.5X faster speed with more material choices, and more colors and print modes available.
Along with more options, the new Cube has added safety features such as a glass plate that can hold a 3D printed object without heating up, making it even safer for your home and your children. Cube is the only 3D printer officially certified for home use with IEC regulations.
Another great feature about the new Cube is the user will be able to choose to print in both ABS and PLA plastics without adjusting any settings. The print head detects which materials are in the cartridge automatically. The Cube sells for $1299 or you can purchase a special print pack that comes with 4 cartridges, 25 files and cubify invent for $1399.
 First Analysis...

The specs are spars on the Cubify site.  But, the vertical (layer) resolution has been refined from .25mm to ,20mm.  This should make for nicer looking curved surfaces.  I have no idea if the horizontal accuracy has been improved.  But, this is something I will be testing the first chance that I get.  It's worth a trip to 3D Systems to find out for you, after they get back from CES.

The second thing to note is that we will not be limited to just ABS plastic.  The Next-Generation Cube, as they are calling it, is also able to print PLA.  This probably means that the print jet temperature can now be varied to match the different characteristics of the material.

But, there is also something else hidden in the above description and image that is a bit puzzling.  And, that is the phrase, " the new Cube has added safety features such as a glass plate that can hold a 3D printed object without heating up..."   For all practical purposes, the image of the new version and the original version appear to be identical except for the GLASS bed that is clearly seen in the image.  The glass appears to be frosted.  And, the description says that it no longer needs to be heated.  

This is something that I definitely plan to follow up on as soon as possible.  If they have found a way to print ABS without a heated bed, this is BIG news.  I will try to get to see one as soon as I can to run some tests on the new bed.  I love the toughness of ABS.  But, it needs to be able to be printed without lifting up.  


Note:  If anyone should have any false ideas about my connection with 3D Systems, the fact that they posted their notice about the new version on January 3 and I didn't even know about it until today should set the record straight!  LOL!   I am typically woefully late hearing about new developments because I am concentrating on how to use the Cube more effectively than waiting for press releases!  :)

Monday, December 24, 2012

Christmas Eve Gift - Thread Cutting Tool

Before I left the house this morning, to visit my grandchildren, I finally created that long promised thread cutting tool tutorial for Moment of Inspiration.  And, before retiring this evening, I edited the video and posted it on YouTube.

I have NO idea why it took me so long to get it done because it is a piece of cake to do in Moment of Inspiration!  Maybe I was just waiting for a grand occasion, like Christmas Eve to release it.  Whatever the reason for the delay, I hope that the second part of the tutorial on designing bolts and threads in Moment of Inspiration will come a LOT faster.

Have a GREAT holiday/  And, for those of you that will be fortunate enough to have received a Cube 3D printer for Christmas, I want to welcome you aboard and hope that you will find these pages helpful to you.  This is going to be the start of a wonderfully creative adventure!

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Invent Intro #04 - Circles (Extrusion Boss & Cut)

Extrusion is one of the most used commands in any CAD program.  And, Cubify Invent is no exception.  It is THE primary way that we turn a 2D sketch into a 3D object. 

There are two types of EXTRUDE that can be used in Cubify Invent.  They are EXTRUDE (Boss) and EXTRUDE (Cut).


Essentially, EXTRUDE (Boss) ADDS layers of material in the shape of the 2D sketch to form a 3D object with features defined by the 2D sketch.  I don't think that it's a stretch to call EXTRUDE (Boss) the most used 2D to 3D option.

Using EXTRUDE (Boss), a 2D circle becomes a 3D Cylinder having height as well as a circumference.  A 2D square becomes a 3D box or cube when EXTRUDE (Boss) is applied.


EXTRUDE (Cut) doesn't ADD material.  It REMOVES material, if any exists.  This is most often used to create cut-outs and holes in already existing 3D objects.  While not used as often as its boss counterpart, it is still an often used option and may well be second of all the 3D options in frequency of use.

Using the selected 2D sketch, it acts as a cutting die, removing the exact shape of the original 2D sketch from whatever 3D object is crosses.  It can cut partially through an object or all the way through as the user determines.

Here is a video that demonstrates these powerful Cubify Invent commands at work creating a useful part that has bolt holes and a ledge that is counter-sunk into the part using EXTRUDE (Cut).

For those exploring Moment of Inspiration, here is how a similar part might be created using only EXTRUDE (boss) with MOI's Boolean Union and Difference Tools.  It's interesting how different applications accomplish the same task by going down two different paths. 

In a follow-up tutorial, we explore all the 2D and 3D BOOLEAN FUNCTIONS available in Moment of Inspiration.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Cubify Invent - Tutorial 16: The Power of Reference Objects

Planning is an important part of design.  This is especially true if you plan on printing that design on a 3D printer, like the Cube.  It's also imperative if that design must interface with a real world object.

In this tutorial we cover making just that.   We plan to print at least 100 pieces of the design and that design must fit firmly onto the end of a PVC pipe.

The object that we will be demonstrating will be used in an outdoor Christmas display.  It's a cap that holds a Christmas light and that cap fits onto a piece of white PVC pipe that, hopefully, will end up simulating a candle.  The candles will be used to line a driveway and, ultimately, they will be joined by links of white plastic chain.

We won't get as far in the design as adding the loops for the chain in this tutorial.  That is saved for the next tutorial.  But, in around 11 minutes we will be able to finish the basic design of the cap.  And, the reason we can do that so quickly and so precisely is that we already know our design's measurement constraints and we can guide our design using these constraint with reference objects.

Specifically, we will use several REFERENCE RECTANGLES and a single REFERENCE LINE.

Reference objects are only guides and aides for your s ketch.  They do not actually control the shape of the 3D part.  But, they are extremely useful, as this demonstration should attest.  But, what makes them even MORE useful is our ability to easily change dimensions after the reference object has been drawn.

Here is Tutorial #16 that, hopefully, effectively demonstrates the power of reference objects when combined with MAKE DIMENSION when real precision is required.

In our next tutorial we will add the loops that are used to connect the candles using plastic chain.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Cubify Invent - Tutorial #12: Sweep Boss & Cut

We do a little bit differently in this tutorial.  We include a brief demonstration of how Moment of Inspiration (MOI) handles the SWEEP command before looking at Cubify Invent's SWEEP.   The difference is that MOI allows us to use TWO paths or RAILS along which to SWEEP our primary shape.  As of right now, Cubify Invent only permits us to use a single path or rail. 

But, as we shall see, while that presents some challenges, Invent's SWEEP still allows us to do amazing things.


I like the term that Moment of Inspiration's developers use when describing the path on which the primary sketch rides.  They call it a RAIL.  And, that is a great analogy.  SWEEP is just like a train traveling on a RAIL, following every curve and nuance of the rail as it moves from one point to another.

SWEEP starts with a sketch.  That sketch can be simple or complex.  But, in Cubify Invent, it must be a CLOSED drawing.  We demonstrate with a circle and a curved wall as out primary objects.  Think of SWEEP as an EXTRUSION that follows a path determined by an OPEN rail.

The Rail is a second SKETCH that is NOT an enclosed path.  This RAIL or PATH is used to guide an extrusion of the closed, primary sketch.  The SWEEP follows the basic rules or behavior of the EXTRUSION tool... except that it is rarely straight.  A sketch of two Circles, therefore, can become a curved pipe and that of a single circle becomes a curved, solid rod.

We don't have time to get into all the specifics of relating the RAIL to the CLOSED SKETCH in this tutorial.  We just cover the basics.  But, some very, very complex curves can be created under the SWEEP umbrella.  So, expect more explorations to follow.


Here is the video.  At just over 16 minutes, It's much longer than I usually prefer.  But, the subject matter is so rich that I hope it justifies the extra time spent viewing it.

The raw power of SWEEP to create more organic features makes it well worthwhile to explore in greater depth.  Plus, it's always surprising and fun to see a finished sweep for the first time.  So, rest assured that there is more to come regarding this wonderful tool!

Monday, September 3, 2012

Cubify Invent - Tutorial #9: Revolve & Circular Pattern

If there is one command, beyond EXTRUDE, that is probably among the most used, it would be RESOLVE BOSS.  There is a good reason for the popularity of this command for both novices and experts.

For novices, it allows us to create very nice, useful designs with just a simple sketch and one command.  But, the power of RESOLVE goes WAY beyond being able to create cups, wine glasses and vases.

It is especially useful for those designing for 3D printers.  In one pass we can create extremely complex multi-part designs with outside and inside features that can only be produced with a 3D printer.  And, in this tutorial, we explore one such design.

We also explore the CIRCULAR PATTERN command.  This allows us to copy a part or parts in a circular pattern around a center point.  The number of items and the degrees of spacing can be user selected.  It is one of my most used operations in Moment of Inspiration and it will be equally used in my Cubify Invent designs!  You'll love it!

As you may or may not be able to see, from the video splash screen, we used it to simulate an aircraft radial engine in just a few minutes time.  (I see one splash screen in design mode and another on the blog page????)  :)

The more I use Cubify Invent, the more comfortable I become with most of the commands.  RESOLVE, both BOSS and CUT, along with CIRCULAR PATTERN are among the commands with which I have gained some confidence.

There are still some commands that I'm sorting out.  They work similarly to what I'm used to doing in Moment of Inspiration.  But, there are enough differences that more practice and exploration is needed.  SWEEP is one of those commands.  Simple SWEEPS are easy enough.  But, SWEEP is far more capable than where I am now.  Hopefully, we can have some useful information in the next day or two.  In the meantime, there is plenty we can do with what we have discovered so far.

I'm a very happy camper.  :)

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Cubify Client - Important Update

Thank Cube owner Chris Crowley for this one.

He alerted me in an email to an important new feature in the latest update to the Cubify Client software.  I'm as excited to see it as he was!

Previously, the only file types that we could upload into the Cubify Client were .CREATION and .STL files.  We can now IMPORT a THIRD file type into the Cubify Client!!  And, that is a .CUBE file.

.CUBE File Type Added to IMPORT.

And, the importance of this is that, for the first time, we can visualize supports before we print them!

This is no small thing.  Supports are sometimes a necessary thing in printing an object with our Cube.  But, you already know how much I hate them and do my best to avoid needing supports if at all possible.  Being able to see, beforehand, how supports might be generated, BEFORE printing, is going to be very helpful in making design AND LAYOUT decisions.

I've created an .STL file that demonstrates why I say this.

Design & Layout Comparison Drawing

The above image shows essentially the same FUNCTIONAL part in two different design configurations and two different print orientations.  The only difference between the parts is that in one, the notch has a flat cut and in the other the notch is rounded.  Each of these two designs has been flipped upside down so that the notch is pointing up.

STL Import View

Previously, all we had was the view of the part in its pristine form.  Just as the .STL or .CREATION was designed.  This tells us NOTHING about the final print when it comes to either needing supports or how those supports will be printed.  That all changes with Version 1.0.24 of the Cubify Client.

.Cube File View

If we create a .Cube file and then load it into the Cubify Client, we now see the parts in two different colors.  The YELLOW represents the part and the RED represents the support materials.  We can instantly see that both design and orientation make a difference when it comes to needing supports.

Flat Notch vs. Rounded Notch

Let's first compare the DESIGN decision to use a FLAT notch vs. a ROUNDED notch.  Notice how must more dense the support material is in the FLAT notch.  The ROUNDED notch still requires some support; but, it is less dense, which should make it easier and cleaner to remove.

But, the real difference comes in using a different orientation!

Orientation Support Comparison

Notice that it does not matter how we designed the notch if we flip the part upside down to print it.  Neither design needs support in the notch area.  The only potential need for support is at the side holes.

Side Hole Support
That is NOT a lot of support in that hole!  Had the supports been massive or filled the hole completely, then we might come to the conclusion that support is absolutely required.  But, in fact, I'd be willing to print the flipped parts WITHOUT supports or raft just to see if I can get by with it.

I hope you can see how useful this new feature is going to be to save you (1) material, (2) time and (3) aggravation.  :)