Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Insight from a Different Technology

Alan Gregerman, who I mentioned in an earlier post, "Surrounded by Geniuses" encourages us to cultivate the genius that resides in all of us through developing a sense of Curiosity.  If we are curious, we will cast a wide net in search of ideas that can help us with our specific interest or problem.

The Cube is an "Additive" technology.  That is, we create object by ADDING plastic in layers.  There is another technology that precedes the technology used by the Cube.  And, that is "Subtractive" technology that is generally called CNC.  CNC mills use bits to CUT AWAY material to reveal the target object.

I thought it would be instructive to nudge our curiosity in order to see if we can find some creative genius by taking a little field trip down the "Subtractive" road to see where it leads us.  In particular,  I'd like to see if looking at other technologies can help us appreciate the capabilities of the Cube and other 3D printers.  But, we won't stop at the machines.  I'm hoping we can also find some things that might be helpful in making the Cubify web site THE most satisfying it can be.

First, the machine...  The iModela from Roland.


First, I want to say that Roland has been making desktop milling machines for many years.  And, they are rugged and excellent.  I have been using an associates MDX-15 milling machine off and on for probably 10 years and it's still going strong.   It is, however, a much bigger machine than the iModela and also functions as a 3D scanner, of sorts, using a probe.  Here is an image of the MDX15 for comparison.


Based on my experience with the MDX-15, it is very apparent that Roland has upped their game on an already good product.  First, they now include a sound dampening cover.  While all current 3D machines make some noise, these things are really loud.  And, as you can imagine, they throw some dust.

So, lets see the iModela in action...


As you can see, if you make it through the video there is a lot of set up to prepare the iModela for action.  In particular, adjusting the cutting blade is still a pain.  What is not clear is if they have fixed the problems of absolute repeatability from one session to another if there is an interval between sessions.

On the positive side, the resolution of the iModela is going to be better than that of the Cube and, if it follows the MDX-15, it can cut aluminum quite easily.

What is CANNOT do is create complex shapes in one pass.  Here is where the Cube really outdoes the iModela.  Now, they SHOW some apparently complex shapes on the iModela web site.  But, these are not created in a single pass.  And, Roland should be credited for clearly showing potential users what they have to do to create those more complex objects.


There is a fair amount of filing and glue that is used!   Now, we can paint Cube parts.  And, we can glue Cube parts.  But, that is not necessary in order to create a very complex shape, like this marvelous item from designer Aryan called "Ball in a Cage" which can be created on the Cube as one printing session in one piece!  (Nice job, Aryan!)



And, consider this model title "ED209" , also by Aryan...



I'm sure that we can agree that it would take a LOT if gluing together components if all one had was a CNC mill.  Yet, a 3D Printer, like the Cube can create this in a single session as long as we want it as a static model.  It's even possible to design it so that parts can move and still print it as one item.

Both additive and subtractive systems have their strengths and weakness.  But, having used a CNC, dollar for dollar, I'd choose the Cube for the kinds of things I want to to do.  The benefits of "Additive" technology simply outweigh the benefits of "Subtractive" technologies for those things that I envision making. Still, that does NOT diminish the obvious usefulness of the iModela and it's great to see the improvements.  And, that includes the fact that they seem to have vastly improved the software for this new product.  And, that brings us to my real reason for wanting to go on this little field trip.

With rare exception I REALLY I like the iModela Home Page as a portal for consumer customers.  They really seem to have hit the bulls eye when it comes to hitting their target market... hobbyists.  I love the color and the action of the scrolling panel that covers just about every aspect that one would want to know about the product, the software and what it can do.  They demonstrate the capability with a wide variety of bright and vividly colorful objects.

Then, just below the scrolling panel they present a number of videos that further demonstrate the iModela experience.  I have a love/hate response to some of the videos.  First, most have music that may or may not go over well if I want to explore this site in places other than home.  Secondly, while I appreciate Roland's honesty, some of the videos actually demonstrate why I DON'T want a CNC machine.  As I said, there is a LOT of filing and gluing.

But, what the iModela site lacks is very important to point out!

It is very, very difficult to find a single USEFUL item on their page.  I see a lot of plastic trinkets.  And, a lot of painted funny characters.  But, do they REALLY think all we want to do in 3D is create dime store trinkets???

I think the design goals of those interested in creating 3D objects are a lot more diverse than that.  Yea.  I DO want to create SOME funny creatures.  And, I DO want to create some stamping tools or key chains.  But, I want to create a LOT more than that.

I want to create USEFUL things.  And, while I KNOW that the Roland is perfectly capable of creating some of those useful things.  I want them to acknowledge the fact that desire by including a few.

And, that brings me back to the Cubify site... where 3D Systems has done just that.  Based on the fact that the item Mark3DS uploaded has the 3D Systems logo, I'm guessing that he works for them.  Here is a an elegantly simple and very useful "Smart Phone Prop".


By the way, Mark3DS also provided us with the perfect way to leave our little field trip by giving us "Helical Art", the perfect example of something an "Additive" system can do that a "Subtractive" system can only dream about doing!
 

Designers like Aryan, Mark3DS and the Cube are why I'm DEFINITELY a Cubify Fan!!!

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