Wednesday, November 5, 2014

I Went Where Wise Angels Fear to Tread - Inside the Cube 3 Cartridge

Many years ago, in the early 1970's, as video production suddenly blossomed, I bought a used Mercedes 280SEL just before the almost instantly huge price differences between American and German cars put the Mercedes out of my reach. (Back then the price gap was about two-to-one.)

Used to working on my own cars, I was astounded by the difference between American cars of the time with what I saw when I first took the oil cover off the Mercedes engine to fine tune the valve adjustment.

Back then, there was simply NO comparison in terms of precision and design excellence.

In my previous American cars, valves had only a single spring  The Mercedes valves had both an inner and outer spring.  What's more, the American valve springs sat right on the head and the Mercedes springs rested on bearings.

I bring this up because curiosity got the best of me last night and I took a Cube 3 cartridge apart and, miraculously, put it back together again.

I had inadvertently clogged the nozzle of the cartridge while experimenting with some left/right gap tests and decided since the fault was my own, I didn't want 3D Systems to bear the cost of my mistake.  So, with nothing to lose, I decided to see if I could find out what is inside.

And, like that with the Mercedes, this experience left me astounded by the design and the quality of every single component in the cartridge, from the extruder in the center of the hub to the parts inside the print jet tip.  Eric Albert was the pioneer in taking the dismantle-rebuild journey and he had mentioned his admiration for the quality of the parts.  And, since he runs a lab with CNC machine tools, I had a prior hint about the quality parts.  But, even so, I came away with the feeling that 3D Systems seriously cares to bring the best to Cube users.  The engineers and 3D Systems deserve an award for excellence based on the design of the cartridge alone.  The Cube 3 cartridge is a significantly elegant design achievement on multiple levels.

The formerly clogged cartridge is back in service and working well.  But, I will take it apart again once the filament is exhausted so that I can get images for you.  Wait until you see the pictures.  I know you will be impressed.

In the meantime, here is my take away for users.

Correct gap is CRITICAL
Remember, there are TWO Print Jets.  Fortunately, the print jet tip is spring loaded.  But, still, it's possible to manually gap one tip and have the other slightly rubbing against the print table.  For now, make sure the LOWEST print jet, if there is a slight difference, has the proper gap.

If you hear a "Clicking"  from the cartridge, STOP printing immediately.

If a print jet is blocked, there will be a clicking sound coming from the cartridge hub.  Stop IMMEDIATELY if you hear that noise before the extruder chews up the filament in its teeth.  The sound does not mean the cartridge has clogged.  It just means the filament flow is blocked.  But, if you let it go too long the cartridge may become permanently clogged.  None of us want that and we, as alert users, can go a long way in preventing it.
Apply ALL early firmware Updates Immediately

Experience with the 2nd Generation Cube, taught me that few companies have paid more attention to making life easier and better for consumer owners than 3D Systems through ever better firmware updates.  We can expect a firmware update relatively soon if past history is any indicator.   Apply it as soon as you can.
It is obviously a goal for 3D Systems to take much of the responsibility for correct leveling and gap out of the user's hands.  And, they came very close, right out of the starting gate.  But, for now, we need to be pro-active in assuring that we do not block either print jet tip by making sure that we have manually checked the gap for both print jets.  I'm sure this is not a permanent situation.  But, for now, it's the wisest course of action.


  1. Where can I download the latest firmware? My cubify software has been upgraded to 1.27 and the printer prompts for new firmware but when I press on update on the cube 3 ... nothings happens.

    We also had to open up the print head to purge out some broken filaments in the feeding tube and was surprised and how simple and easy it was. Great Job to 3D systems.

    1. On a daily basis, I would go to the menu option that llooks like a memory chip and actively check for new firmware. As Jesus pointed out, the firmware is downloaded via WiFi.

  2. Hi Tom ,

    I have already received my Cube3 . I made my first impressions are really good .

    I have also had problems. The nozzle has grated me the print pad. He had used the autogap . Now I've set manually and it seems to work fine.

    Regarding the software update that says Marc , now I is downloading the files directly from the cube3 by wifi.

    Excuse my English , I'm using google translator ...

    Greetings and thanks for sharing your time and expertise with us.

  3. Your English is fine. Please email Cubify support about your need for setting the gap manually. They need to know about it. It helps them know what needs to be addressed in firmware updates. Also, please feel free to use the email for me on the sidebar if you have any questions, etc.

    It was great hearing from you. :)

  4. I seem to bump into a problem with the printjet , I wonder if anyone has had similar experience. Prior to printing, the printjet needs to heat up, during which a string of printing material squirts out. Often, the string gets entangled and becomes a hairball stuck on the printjet!!!! How do I make sure this doesn't happen? thanks!

    1. Hi jim, I think the 'wiper', the orange piece of rubber thingy is meant to catch the ball of excess material. However, it does not work all the time and yes, the excess materials can cause some failure to the print.

    2. Hi Jim,

      Marc's answer is more clear than was mine. The wipers on each side are meant to clean off the printjet tip. But, due to positioning issues controlled in firmware, the tip dribble some filament on the wrong side of the wipers. I will post a video that shows what is happening. A future firmware update should fix the problem.

      But, even if it's a design problem the fix should be relatively easy since the wipers are removable and meant to be field replaceable,

  5. Please contact Cubify Support to let them know what you are seeing. In fact, I just sent them a picture yesterday of that happening with my printer. So, it's important for them to get a feel for how many printers might exhibit that behavior.

    I'm sure it just requires a firmware update to reposition the print head during heating.

  6. I have clogged my print heads. both cartridges will not extrude. the spools inside are clicking, the print head is hot and i cleared out the nozzle and still nothing. does anyone have any ideas?

  7. I assume you are using the PLA that came with the Cube3?

    It seems to me that the issue has to either in the tip or at the extruder.

    Eric found that when his clogged, the extruder stripped the filament so that it would not get a good grip. But, I haven't completely conformed this is true of every clog.

    In any case, I am working on a reliable way to get us back up and running when a cartridge clogs. While, I haven't come to any definitive answers as yet, I do know that upgraded filament is in the works. Maybe that's the answer.

    I don't know. The cartridge system is pretty complex and well made. But, perhaps the filament surface needs to be more precise, polished or hardened to withstand the pressures of being pushed rather than pulled.

    For now, I would IMMEDIATELY contact Clubify support and let them know.

  8. Both of my cartridges that came with the printer became stripped after just using 5% of the plastic. It seemed to co inside with trying a 0.07 print. Cubify is sending me replacements. If the plastic stops extruding on a print and you let the printer continue (ie not watching print like a hawk) then the cartridge inside eventually becomes stripped and is now useless.

  9. Thinking back on it the 2 clogs were the only .07 prints I had created. i contacted cubify and they did the same for me, the good thing is they know of the problem and were quick to ship my replacements. I was able to clear the clogged nozzle but its still useless these cartridges are no good

  10. Thanks to all that are posting their experience. AND for contacting Cubify Support. The more they hear from people the better. I had not tried the ,07 prints as yet for anything of any size. So, this is helpful. Although, my ABS failed at .20 and I think it was how hard my design was working the extuder with tight fill material.

  11. Replacement cartridges only took 2 days and I am in Toronto. For all the previous delays of shipping I am quite surprised. I will try new cartridges tonight and report back in. I am now very weary to try 0.7 prints however I believe I have to at least try.

    1. I’ve only managed to print 1 model at 0.07mm. Every other time the cartridge has clogged. The cartridges have a major design flaw. I hope 3DS continue to replace cartridges until they can fix this problem. At $50 a pop these are expensive this is the kind of thing that can turn into a class action suit all too quickly.

    2. The cartridge, itself, seems beautifully designed. It is only the filament surface that seems to have been an issue. The new filament, I assume, has a tougher surface to resist stripping.

  12. That is great to hear. I notice that the boxes have a lot number. If your new filament works, it might be useful to report the lot number.

    Let us know how it goes.

  13. I got my cartridges in 2 days. performed all updates and releveling etc. 4 hrs into a .003in (they changed their units on the update) it clogged again. i found it in the morning air printing the second half of my model. this is ridiculous

  14. If, as we suspect, it is a filament issue, it makes sense that the replacements also failed as the new filament/cartridge is not yet in the pipeline. They are giving it a good try; but, I suspect that until the new filament has arrived, we will continue to have the same result.