Thursday, July 11, 2013

Class 40 and Beyond!

Little did I know, when Cathy Lewis of 3D Systems asked me for a favor, that it would result in one of the most rewarding experiences of my life.  Cathy Lewis was speaking at a conference on 3D printing organized by Homeland Security and asked me if I would be willing to bring my Cube 3D printer to demonstrate it.  I was more than happy to do so.

During the conference Cathy introduced me to Lynda Mann of YouthQuest, who spoke of their desire to use 3D printing to inspire and motivate at-risk young people.  To make a long story short, I ended up volunteering to teach 3D printing to some cadets from Class 40 at the Freestate Challenge Academy located on the the grounds of the Edgewood / Aberdeen  Proving Grounds.

It was an amazing experience that I enjoyed immensely.  The cadets, as you will see in the video at the end of the YouthQuest story in the link in this article really took to 3D design and printing in a huge way.  There is no need to write much more.  Steve Pendlebury, who shot and edited the video, has done a great job of telling the story of Class 40 and the effects of 3D Printing on the lives of the Cadets.

To read about the life changing experience for both cadets and teacher please check out Steve's article on the YouthQuest web site.  The video is at the bottom of the article.

Why 3D Printing Is a Great Teaching Tool for At-Risk Youth
This class was the first of many classes to be expanded around the country in the future.  And, I am SO happy to be a part of it.

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!

Friday, May 31, 2013

Cube Videos from the University of Michigan 3D Lab!

The University of Michigan 3D Lab has produced a series of "How-To" videos that provide very clear instructions for operating a Cube 3D printer.

The quality of these videos is excellent.

The first video gives a very nice overview of the basics for getting started with the Cube 3D printer.  A sidebar also provides an index to the entire series.

    Video #1: About the Cube

As you finish each video, the next in the series will be loaded automatically.  Nice.

While I could embed the videos here, I would much rather that you go to their uploaded videos or the University of Michigan 3D Lab directly so that they get full credit for their wonderful work.

Nice job!

Monday, May 13, 2013

Planning some "How-to" Videos for the 2nd Gen Cube

I just ordered some new lights so that I can create some new videos that will, hopefully, enhance your user experience with the 2nd Generation Cube.

Some of the topics that I know I want to cover deal with the Cubify options and how they affect your print job.  Another would be some observations about the CubeStick glue.  And, of course, we'll deal with clearing filament flow errors that all extrusion 3D printer users see from time to time.

As you can imagine, I often have people contacting me with some problem they've experienced.  More often than not, these problems could have been avoided or at least minimized by taking some care in how the filament, cartridges and the Cube are handled.  

In fact, I've victimized myself by not realizing that there is a way to insert the cartridge that puts less stress on the small contacts in the Cube.  It turns out that the cartridge should be carefully ROTATED into place.  If we shove it straight back, without rotating, we can jam the cartridge into the little metal clips, stressing them to the point of potential failure.    OK.  Drop the potential.  I now know that shoving the cartridge straight back can result in actual failure.  Not fun.

I know because after 30+ cartridges, I just did that very thing.  Haste makes waste.... sigh...

Fortunately, it's an easy fix for me because I have the proper equipment and experience *.  So, I should not be down long.  But, you can bet I will be a LOT more careful in the future when it comes to loading a cartridge.

There are some video ideas that might be helpful; but, present some risk that should be stressed.  Things like how to open up the Cube to replace the contact switch falls into that category.  While I can show this operation I hesitate to do so unless the viewer is full informed of the potential consequences.  Opening up the machine probably completely voids the warranty.  And, it's possible to damage the board if the wrong solder or soldering iron is used.  But, even so, I might be convinced to show some of these things as long as people realize they follow suit at their own risk.  I want to be helpful... not sued.  LOL!

The best way for me to know what would be most helpful for you is to hear from you.  So, please feel free to chime in and offer suggestions. :)

*  The proper tool is a very fine miniature soldering iron that is suitable for removing and replacing surface mount parts.  De-Solder wick is also helpful.

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.  :)

Sunday, May 5, 2013

When a Raft Makes Sense to a Raft Hater

I hate rafts and supports and avoid them as fervently as I can.  In fact, you could say that I'm a bit rabid about the topic.

To be honest, of hundreds of objects I've printed with the Cube printer, the number that required supports could be counted on one hand that had lost a couple of fingers.  In fact, I think it was only one... when I first got the 1st generation Cube.

But, recently, I have run into some designs that just would NOT stick to the table for the length of time they needed to remain attached.  Of course, I blamed it entirely on the glue and made my feelings known to the Cubify design team. 

Then it dawned on me that while there might be some potential for a stickier long lasting glue, the real issue just might be my adament refusal to consider using a raft.  So, I decided to test that theory and reprint one of my non-raft failures with a raft.

Ooops!  Duh... that worked like a charm.

I think I know why.  I was trying to print 8 beam-like objects that were 130mm x 10mm x 6mm.  The adhesion had to work with the 6mm edge.   The length offered more than a little opportunity for warping.  So, I cut pentagonal holes along the length hoping to help mitigate that potential.  While it helped, it probably didn't take enough stress off to completely stop warping. 

You would think that a perfectly flat surface would adhere better than waffle surface.  But, upon reflection, I can see why that might not be accurate.  A raft probably offers more surface area for adhesion because the glue, which has some depth of its own, has the opportunity to ooz up into the seams between the first layer of lines of the raft and wrap around the filament adding a bit more grip vertically as well as under the filament.  The actual area is probably considerably bigger than offered by the flat side alone.

Whatever the reason, one can't argue with the results.  So, I've decided to be a bit more flexible about my no raft rule.  When you need it, you need it... sigh....

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Significance of Staples Carrying the Cube

I've been traveling for the last few days and so I was quite surprised to get a phone call this morning alerting me the fact that Staples will be carrying the Cube 3D printer online and in select stores.

Checking in to the Cubify Blog, I found this article.that makes the announcement.

This is a HUGELY significant development along the path toward bringing 3D printers into homes and offices as mainstream productivity tools.  For the first time, as far as I know, someone will be able to walk into a store and actually SEE the printed output from a 3D printer.  Prior to this, potential buyers had to rely on images or attend a special showing at an event to get any idea about the capabilities of the Cube.

While I do not believe that this is going to push the Cube designers any harder than they has pushed themselves, it's bound to have an impact on improvements and feature improvement.  Having worked for a video game company whose product was sold in major stores, I know, firsthand, that store buyers can be very vocal about things they'd like to see for their customers.  Numbers mean something.

It also means that designers hoping to sell their designs on Cubify should see a major boost in the sales potential for their designs.

I should be able to gauge the impact, at least on a rudimentary level, by closely monitoring the traffic on this blog.  I can tell you that the increase in traffic was significant when the 2nd Generation Cube was announced earlier this year.  It was as if a light switch had been turned on!  I expect to see an equally big boost based on Staples showing an all new spotlight on the Cube and home/office 3D printing.

It only keeps getting better!  :)