Wednesday, March 20, 2013

So, THAT'S Why They Include a Manual!

After realizing that low relative humidity might be affecting the effectiveness of the Cube Stick, I contacted some Cube managers to ask for an official specification.

It would be embarrassing to note that they pointed me to the manual, except that I'm guessing I'm not alone in skipping over all those details in the rush to get up and printing.  But, it turns out that the issue of relative humidity IS available to us right in the manual that came with the printer.

Hmmmm.... imagine THAT!  Who would have guessed.  LOL!


Cubify Humidity Range

Here's the rub... you don't want a sustained high humidity if you are using PLA. Fortunately, the fact that the Cube's PLA is in a cartridge helps to protect it.  But, at the same time we need to have the humidity high enough that the CubeStick doesn't dry out prematurely.

While the above specs seem to indicate that we could go as low as 9%, it seems to me that I see some negative affects in long print jobs at 16% that would indicate that it's best to aim higher.  So, I will be aiming at 20%-25% and see if I can see any difference in the duration of the stickiness factor.  I'll ramp up from there if I have too.  My PLA doesn't stick around long enough to become waterlogged.  :)

But, given the above information, I probably will NOT be aiming at the 40%-50% relative humidity mentioned in my previous post.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

CubeStick (2nd Gen Glue) Observations

I don't know if the observations you are about to read are universally true.  But, it has taken a little bit of getting use to using CubeStick as differentiated from the behavior of the heat activated MagicGlue.

Don't get me wrong.  Both work and work well.  But, it seems to me that there are some extra things we can do to make sure that we do not EVER have a failure due to an object coming loose as it's being printed.

Dry the Printing Table Thoroughly

Both CubeStick and Magic Glue are water soluble.

It might be my imagination.  But, CubeStick seems less sticky when applied to a newly cleaned print table.  The print bed is frosted glass.  And, it may be that the very tiny irregularities that make frosted glass frosted might be able to hide and hold microscopic drops of water when we think we have dried the table completely.  It doesn't take a lot more effort to give the glass a few extra swipes with a new paper towel just to make sure the table is as dry as we can get it.

Apply a Thin Base Coat of CubeStick on Newly Cleaned Printing Tables

Just like a primer helps when painting, it has been my experience that if I first apply a very thin CubeStick layer over the whole printing table, and let it sit for a few minutes before applied a final coat of CubeStick that it seems to have significantly better performance.

Create Small Water Channels in Object Bases

CubeStick is water soluble.  So, if there is an object that you know is going to be difficult to remove from the print table try creating a .25mm channel at the base of the object to help distribute water under the object.  This can be created using a small square modified with BOSS CUT or BOOLEAN DIFF.  An object having a  patterned bottom releases more easily than one having a completely flat bottom.  By creating water channels at the base of your objects, you permit water to get under the object, dissolving the glue.

You don't need big channels.  Nor, do you need many.  A few will create isolated pockets of adhesion, allowing the piece to be lifted more easily.

Use the Best Tool

I have found a "painting knife" that works very well to remove stubborn parts. It can be purchased through ACMoore.  But, similar painting knives can be found in any craft or art store.\

Painting Knives for Part Removal
 I had previously used the larger version with the RapMan 3.2,  But, the smaller version is well suited for the 2nd Generation Cube.  The shape allows you to slide obliquely rather than applying brute force that a paint scraper or straight tool might require.

Relative Humidity

The area in which I live, with wide temperature and moisture variations is also a factor in how the CubeStick behaves.  I assume that the optimal indoor relative humidity for proper adhesion without drying too fast is between 40% and 50%.  In the room in which I print, the relative humidity has gone from 16% t0 56%.  Now that I think about it, those times when the humidity has dropped to the lowest points are probably the times when the glue has seemed to perform less than expected.  Now that I realize this, I will keep an eye on the relationship and will use a small personal humidifier in that space.  Of course, I don't want it so high that the humidity affects the PLA.  A balance is the key.



Sunday, March 17, 2013

Nailed an Interfaced Part on the First Try

If you have been working in 3D printing with an extrusion type of printer... including very expensive ones... you will know that one of the historic issues has been the fidelity of the printed output relative to the design specifications.

I had been extremely busy with a very complex design of a system that requires tight interaction with many different parts.  Receiving a 2nd Gen Cube was a bit of a mixed blessing.  On the one hand, I realized that the 2nd Gen Cube has a high level of fidelity.  On the other hand, it meant a complete redesign to take advantage of this new accuracy.

I will be writing about the bigger project very soon.  But, for now I simply want to emphasize the accuracy of the 2nd Gen Cube by relating a smaller project that I'd been putting off for more than a month.

A friend had asked me to print a faceplate that fit into a case in which an electronic board would be mounted.  The part I was to create had to fit the opening of the case with perfect precision.

I am VERY pleased to report that using the design specifications supplied by the case manufacturer, it was extremely easy to match the new faceplate to the box.  In fact, the very first design worked!

That's pretty amazing to me.  I had been used to several iterations of modifying specifications to match real world measurements to the capabilities of a 3D printer.  The ONLY adjustment I made was to round all specifications to the next lower .25mm.

METRIC MEASUREMENTS HELP

I've abandoned using SAE measurements when designing for 3D printing.  All SAE measurements are converted to METRIC and the final designs are completed in metric.  The reason for this is that it is far easier to make precise adjustments in millimeters.

One reason for this is that the resolution of the printers are specified by their abilities to print in metric increments.  The Cube, for instance, prints in .25mm layers.  Thus, rounding down measurements to the nearest .25mm Z-Axis increment ensures precise height specifications.  Likewise, even with the 1st Gen Cube, we knew that the nozzle extruded a .50mm strand of filament. So, we could make adjustments once we had enough experience with matching design specs to printed reality.

I'm not exactly sure if the X and Y movements are locked in to .25mm increments.  But, if we start with that assumption, we can use small .1mm experiments to check out that theory.

ACCURACY REDUCES ITERATIONS

Lastly, I want to say how much I appreciate the efforts of the Cube design team to address the accuracy issue with the new 2nd Gen Cube design.  It has vastly reduced the iterations required to reach a final design.   NICE!

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

2nd Generation Cube - First Impressions

One of the problems I had with attempting to help Cube users is that I only had a 1st Generation Cube.  I have no idea how many 1st Generation Cube owners there are.  But, based on the skyrocketing number of YouTube and CubifyFans Blog viewers since the 2nd Generation Cube was announced and released, I'd have to say that there is a rapidly growing number of 2nd Generation Cube owners,  And, that number will only get bigger.

I was being asked questions about the latest Cube that I could not research, test or answer.  And, since I do not do this as my living, it was hard for me to justify to my wife why I needed a new 3D printer in less than a year.  With her planning to retire in the next month, with a reduced income, that would have been a very tough sell. 

Fortunately, 3D Systems came to the rescue.  I'm grateful to 3D Systems that they have delivered a new 2nd Generation Cube to me so that I can be of help to ALL Cube owners.

And, I am very happy that they have done so,  It turns out that while both are great printers, they have quite different characteristics, as I have learned today as I fired it up and printed some of my own designs on it for the very first time.  So, here are some differences I've already noticed.

The CubeStick Works Differently that Magic Cube Glue

This may not seem like a big change; but, it turns out that 1st Gen Magic Glue owners will have a bit of adjusting to do when using CubeStick.  Magic Glue is heat sensitive.  When the print table cools the glue generally releases, freeing the pieces.  If we are in a hurry, all 1st Gen users have to do is flood the print table with water and the pieces generally pop loose.

CubeStick is very sticky... pre- and post-print.  While water still helps loosen the glue, the pieces don't simply pop off.  A small palette knife may be required to release the piece.

Adjusting the amount of CubeStick we use might also be something that has to come with experience. It's not bad.  It's just different.

Fidelity to the Design Specs

Features printed by the 1st Generation Cube tend to be "fatter" than the specified design by a fairly predictable amount.  Holes tend to be .5mm smaller and posts tend to be .5mm larger.  After a while it become second nature to make adjustment to the design to account for that behavior.

I can already tell that I am going to have to create separate designs for 1st Generations Cubes and 2nd Generation Cubes.  The 2nd Gen Cube prints amazingly close to the actual specifications.  Delicate pieces remain delicate.  If you are relying on a Cube for prototyping, then the 2nd Gen Cube is probably a better fit for your business.  But, as a hobbyist, the difference is not going to make all that much difference.  It all depends on the tolerances off your particular application.

I'm actually going to have to alter my original design to beef up the specs since the 1st Gen Cube did that for me.  Where having a 2nd Generation Cube is going to help me is that it should reduce the design alterations for going to SLA parts, with SLA's absolute accuracy,

Speed

The 2nd Generation Cube wins the speed contest on two fronts.  First, the print table does not have to be heated or cooled.  This saves a lot time between print jobs.  Secondly, depending on the print settings, it prints a bit faster.

Ability to Use PLA

The 1st Generation Cube only prints in ABS.  And, with its heated print table it does a fantastic job.  ABS is very tough material.  And, I love being able to print with it.

But, it's also nice being able to use PLA.  It's a far more forgiving material with which to print.  And, it has a bit of a sheen that makes for a nice finish.  The main benefit of PLA is that it is less likely to warp than ABS.

What I don't know, as yet, is how well the CubeStick handles the ABS material's tendency to warp.  Frankly, I have some doubts.  But, that IS pretty sticky glue!  I'll let you know when I try printing in ABS with the 2nd Gen Cube.  It may be that the higher temperatures required by ABS will reduce the differences in accuracy between the 1st Gen Cube using ABS and the 2nd Gen Cube using lower temperature PLA. 

Bottom Line

I love my 1st Gen Cube.  It is a real workhorse.  And, I am not planning to give it a moment's rest even though I now have a 2nd Gen Cube.  But, clearly 3D Systems has made some significant advances in accuracy and speed in just one new design cycle.  

I certainly understand that some 1st Generation Cube owners might be disappointed to know that an improved machine was released just after they purchased their Cube.  But, while I have to recognize that the 2nd Gen Cube is a better 3D printer, it still does not lessen my appreciation of my 1st Gen Cube.  Nor is the 2nd Gen Cube going to take away any of the workload I had planned for my 1st Generation Cube.  Of the thousands and thousands of things that can be printed on a 3D printer, only a small handful require such tight tolerances that having one version or the other will make a difference.

My granddaughters want me to print an owl for them.  It's not going to make one bit of difference whether it's printed on a 1st Gen Cube or a 2nd Gen Cube. 

I'm very impressed by the direction that the Cube is going.  I hope that you feel the exact same way... no matter which Cube you now have.








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.



Thursday, February 14, 2013

Happy Valentine's Day to the Cube Team


Valentine's Day is a special time for sending those you appreciate a card, letter or some token of your appreciation.  This year it is appropriate for me to send a Valentine Greeting to 3D Systems and the entire Cube/Cubify team.  Beyond my immediate family, if there is a team that I admire more, I sure can't think of one.  So, here goes...



Happy Valentine's Day
Cubify Team!

Thank you for all your efforts to design, build and support my favorite 3D printer.  It is more than simply a machine.  It has become an important part of my life, enabling me to realize long held dreams and ideas that less than a year ago I could only visualize in the recesses of my mind.

I think of you often, no matter what part you have played in continuing to make both the Cube and Cubify betterI am very thankful that you do what you do and care as you care.

     Tom

It's very easy for me to embrace the Cube/Cubify Team.  I am privileged to know some of them and to have interacted with others with questions and suggestions by email or phone.  I have visited Rock Hill to see the Cube before it was released.  I have visited the factory in Virginia and witnessed how much each one on the assembly line and at the pre-shipping testing station cares that you get the best Cube possible.  Recently, I spent two days with several team members at the Hagley Museum, in Wilmington, Delaware, watching and listening to them explain and demonstrate to parents and children how the Cube works.  And, saw the look of awe in the faces of those children.

I have run my Cube day and night for months now.  And, yes, I have had a cartridge or two give me the dreaded "Filament Flow Fail" and, early on, a few clogs here and there.  But, on a scale of 1 to 100, I give my experience with the Cube a solid 99.9 and I doubt that any 3D printer could deliver anything more than that.

Equally importantly,is what it has done for me at an intellectual level.  My creative skills have been sharpened and my imagination has been unleashed in ways that leave me in awe.  I thought I was a creative person before the Cube came into my life.  But, looking back, having ideas without a means to go anywhere with them, really stifled the creative process.  The product that the Cube/Cubify team has brought us has changed all that.

So, again, no matter where you are located, or what part you play, Happy Valentine's Day 3D Systems and the entire Cubify Team.  I love what you have done.  I love what you are continuing to do.  And, I love that you care as I know you care.  :)

 

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.



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