I was privileged, last week, to be able to visit with the Cube / Cubify.Com team at the 3D Systems facilities at Rock Hill, South Carolina.
I plan to put a lot of time and energy into this blog. And, while I THOUGHT my instincts about the quality and significance of the Cube were right. I wanted to be absolutely sure. The ONLY way to confirm my hunch was to see and experience one in action. And, because it has not been released to the public as yet, the only way to do that was to go there.
Since I was not sure if my visit would cross over days, I decided to drive instead of fly. This involved a 7+ hour drive each way! And, to put what I'm going to say in better context, I'll mention that I am a consultant that makes a living via billable hours. I lose precious income when I take time away from my consulting work. I don't have paid days off. So, this was a relatively significant investment in time and money. But, it was important to me to know, for sure, that the Cube was worth investing FUTURE time and effort into. I found my answer!
Not only was it worth the effort to see and experience the Cube in action. It was WELL worth the investment in time and effort.
It is a marvelously designed product that was better in every respect than my expectations. I like the size. I like the user interface. And, I was blown away by the quality of the print that the Cube is able to deliver even while still in pre-production status.
So, let me introduce you to the Cube as I experienced it...
First, it is the right size. Yes, it is smaller than the hobbyist RepRap machines. But, that is a GOOD thing. The Cube is a comfortable size for any home or office. For those that remember the original Mac computers, it's about that size. It's relatively light and VERY solidly built. The 5.5" x 5.5" build surface is, in my mind, as useful as a much larger build area for 95% of the things I've seen printed on any RepRap printer. Just look around you and see how many useful things you can see that could fit in a 5.5" x 5.5" x 5.5" box!
Let's go through the above picture and examine the Cube. My first observation is that this is a safer design for the home and school. The belts and gears are well away from curious hands of youngsters. The material being used for printing is conveniently enclosed as well. At the bottom right of the unit there is a touch screen display that allows the user to select files to be printed and set up various parameters. What I especially liked is that it is self calibrating. To the right, you see a USB drive. The objects to be printed can be sent to the Cube via WiFi, USB cable or with a standalone Flash drive.
I'm pleased to be able to report that, while it printed FASTER than I expected, it also was MUCH more quiet than I expected. This is extremely important, since printing a 3D piece takes a while. 3D Systems has multiple Cubes printing items in the reception area of the building and they do not interfere with the receptionist ability to take calls. I could easily sleep through an all night print even if the printer was in the same room in which I was sleeping.
The printing can progress unattended. Before starting a print, the Cube will let you know if there is not enough material left in the cartridge to complete the job. So, there should be no reason to have to continuously monitor the progress of the print. Once it is finished printing, the table drops down to indicate that the printing is done, as in the above image.
The items on display in the lobby of 3D Systems are all printed on the machines that seem to be those displayed CES. All of these 3D printers are pre-production models and I assume they represent samples from a range of development models. So, the quality of the print varied. I will be showing a variety of models printed with these machines so that you can see for yourselves. But, for now, here is an image that demonstrates what I observed across all the items.
You can clearly see layers in the "FINALIST" item. But, in the green part, the layers are less obvious. Both of the objects do NOT demonstrate the finest print that I was able to observe. But, they DO demonstrate the usefulness of the precision. The next few images will demonstrate even better resolution and quality.
First, note the batteries to the left of these objects. They are AAA batteries, which should provide some perspective of the size. While some layering is evident, it is EXTREMELY fine. In fact, I was amazed at what they are now able to achieve and I'm told the production models will be even better. Note also that these items did NOT require extra support materials for the overhang at the top of the piece. All pieces do require a layer between the table and the object that holds the object in place while being printed.
A close look will reveal some errors or gaps to the left side of each of these pieces at the same location right at the transition from the rook's base and the wall. This indicates to me that this is NOT a printing engine issue. It is, apparently, a SOFTWARE issue that can be corrected by firmware and software upgrades. So, it does not concern me in the least.
These rooks also demonstrate another wonderful thing about 3D printing.
The ability to print complex INTERNAL features with 3D printers is awesome! My granddaughters love the steps and they peered into the rook's windows and doors to check out the detail of the staircase. There is an interesting filament that confirms, at least to me, my observation that flaws are probably a software issue rather than a printer engine issue. BOTH rooks have the errant filament inside the staircase in exactly the same spot. If it were an engine issue this would probably not be repeated across printings.
The resolution you see from the Cube is even BETTER than I've seen from the bigger RepRap machines. This is seriously good quality and I am VERY excited by what I have seen with my own eyes. Again, consider the size of these objects, as evidenced by the AAA batteries, and just how fine the layer resolution has been achieved.
Yep. I am even a BIGGER FAN than I was before this trip. It is a marvelous machine and worthy of its place as the first true 3D Printer truly suitable for the consumer marketplace.
My trip confirmed that my investment in time and effort to support users of the Cube is well placed. Very well placed, indeed! The Cube is a winner. Pure and simple.