Saturday, April 25, 2015

3D Printing, “A roller coaster ride, but now we are cruising”

Editor's Note:  This is a guest post by Michael Oakley.  Michael works for Autodesk and believes in the value of learning 3D design and printing in the education of his daughters and their schoolmates.  This is the story of their experiences in getting started with the Cube3.  And, yes.  I AM easily bribed with Cuban Food.  So, I hope to hear from Michael concerning Visitation Academy's progress with the the Cube3.

With all the 3D printing hype and attention, as a dad I wanted to get my daughters school involved with 3D printing.

The school is Visitation Academy in Frederick Maryland. It’s an all girls school Pre K 4 thru 8th grade, founded in 1846.

This year the schools leadership decided to develop a STEM program and start developing plans for a STEM lab.

My first thought was lets get some software for the computer lab. I work for Autodesk and was able to provide free software for the school.  Autodesk is currently offering free software for schools, faculty and students. Here is a link if your school or students are interested.

I then wanted to get a 3D printer for the STEM lab. Let me tell you this was not an easy process to find a printer that was Kid friendly, safe, and easy to use. I had access to many 3D printers at Autodesk so I was lucky enough to try them out for myself before deciding.

During my testing I had success, and failures. This was the start of the roller coaster ride. Every step of the way I asked myself 2 questions. Can a teacher figure this out, and how good is the customer support. 

I decided on the Cube 3 from 3D systems.

Kid friendly, easy to use. This was a new printer, so we were taking a chance because a lot of data was not yet available about the quality and reliability of this new printer.

At last the printer arrived, unboxed it setup it up, and successfully printed several parts.  The school participated in the White House 3D printed ornament contest, they did not get selected but the girls had fun designing the ornament.

I decided to 3D print it. Success!! We had 2 designs, here are the 2 designs.

Ornament #1

Ornament #2

We installed the printer at the school, helped the technology teacher learn how to use it, ran some prints, the girls were very excited.

A week later I received a call, the printer won’t print.  We determined that we had a clog in the cartridge head. A call to 3D systems confirmed this, I have to say I was worried at this point. The material cartridges are a bit pricey, but 3D systems provided great service and immediately sent a new cartridge to replace the old.

The new cartridge clogged as well. I did some online research and saw others were having the same issues, 3D systems sent a new cartridge
Then I found this blog CubifyFans. I sent an email to Tom Meeks and he responded quickly and encouraged me to not give up. 3D systems were aware of the problems and were working hard to correct them. Tom and I spent countless hours talking and problem solving.

I noticed Tom lived in Maryland so I invited him to the school. I can’t tell you how lucky we were to have him close by, he gave us tips and tricks to improve success.

It was a great day having him available and volunteering his time to help us.

3D systems was also putting out new firmware and software updates to correct the clogging.

We have definitely seen a huge improvement in the clogging issue, although we don’t print everyday like Tom I'm convinced that 3D systems will continue to provide updates and improvements.

During my research of printers I heard so many horror stories about customer service from other companies. “No call backs” ,  “No Phone number for Support”. This was not my experience with 3D systems. A simple email to support through their web site or a phone call will get you want you need.

The print quality is great, and I would recommend this printer for schools and home use.

So we are now cruising and on a steady path. This year was a learning process for the school, but next year we expect the 3D printer to be well entrenched into the curriculum. Will we be problem free? I doubt it. But, I know we are not alone and we have great help from Tom (As long as I can bribe him with Cuban food) and from 3D systems.

Other things printed:

Visitation Academy - Student Work #1

Visitation Academy - Student Work #2

Visitation Academy - Student Work #3

Visitation Academy - Student Work #4

Michael Oakley


  1. Micheal;

    Interesting read, and yes things have gotten better with the Cube 3.

    Your choice of the Cube 3 from 3D Systems was the right choice for your daughters school, and you will not be disappointed.

    Tom is by far the best resource a Cube 3 owner or user could have and huge resource for 3D Systems throughout the introduction of the Cube 3.

    You are lucky to have Tom so close, I have to rely on this blog - but that works for me.

    If Tom ever makes it to Calgary I will try bribing him with great Alberta Beef !

    Good luck,