Tuesday, February 28, 2012

More Explorations of the Shoe Sample

In the previous blog, I posted an image of a miniature shoe.  Here it is again from a front view.

Now, remember, this is a print from an early pre-production model.  Obviously, I don't have a sample from the most recent iterations.  So, we may be talking about something that will be a completely non-issue in release versions of the Cube.

I did manage to find an image of a second shoe.

As you can see, this seems to be a much more consistent print.  And,  more importantly, the print seems to be a bit finer and cleaner.  I'm assuming that both were printed from the same 3D Model.  But, they may NOT have been printed from the same STL file.  The most important thing to determine from comparing these two images is that some improvement is evident.

But there is something else to see in these images.  And, that is the nature of the support material decision engine.  Notice that the decision to create a support system does not begin at the extreme left or right of the arch of the toe.  It was not until the line of the toe arch began to flatten out that the support decision engine decided that the toe needed supporting.

This is in keeping with the observations of the Rooks.  As long as the slope is gradual, there does not seem to be a need for supports.  Neither of these prints required any support at all at the overhang at the top of the Rooks.  It seems that if we design for a gradual overhang we can possible avoid needing support materials.  This saving a bit of money.

I will be testing this concept as soon as I have the RapMan 3.2 up and running.

Monday, February 27, 2012

In Preparation for the Cube's Arrival

I have not abandoned this site.

I have been building a RapMan 3.2 Extreme in preparation for being able to best help other new owners of the Cube when it arrives.  I will be using the RapMan to test designs and material handling.

We will need some benchmarks to be able to adequately know that we are getting the best out of our Cubes.  From looking at the samples, it isn't all that clear what is a Cube glitch or a design glitch.  Having a second 3D printer will help us sort out those answers.

Now.  Remember, these images are of objects that have been printed by pre-production models of the Cube.  And, unless the imperfections that I am going to point out are due to either design issues or conversion issues, hopefully, we will see something entirely different from the production models we receive.

Even so, it is useful to talk about how we will test and evaluate production printers with what we see in objects printed with pre-production units.  So, here goes.

Take a look at this shoe...

While, for the most part, this is a remarkable print, there seems to be an obvious imperfection along the top-front of the shoe.

Here is another view...

It's even more obvious in the above view.  In fact, we can now see several less-than-perfect print areas,  So, what might be causing this?  

One possible cause would be a design flaw or a conversion flaw.  In order to print, the design must be converted to slices.  It may be that the slicing software needs to be tweaked.  Another potential problem could be that the changes in the slope of the shoe.  The most obvious errors seem to be located just above a radical angle change in the shoe shape.

Until we try to print objects like this, we really don't have the tools to fully analyze what is going on.  And, that is why buying and building a RapMan will, hopefully, give us some clues if we see the same kinds of behaviors.  And, that is why I am taking the time to build one.

I'm hoping that I can obtain the original STL files to test so that we can make some comparisons when the big day that the Cube arrives.  If you would like to follow along with my "Build Experience" go to my original 3DPrinterUsers Blog.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Welcome Cube News Followers!

I see that Cubify's Twitter page has linked to this site and, as a result, there are new viewers and followers of this blog.

Based on what I saw at the 3D Systems facilities at Rock Hill, you will NOT be disappointed by the Cube.  In fact, as I research various RepRap 3D printer forums, I have yet to see anything printed that appears to be as refined as the pieces that the latest Cube 3D printers are producing.

I will be able to prove this for myself because I purchased a RapMan 3.2 RepRap printer so that I could begin creating tutorials for various 3D modeling software options along with printed samples.  Once it is built, provided I build it correctly, I should be able to print parts that let me compare what that printer can produce relative to the Cube.  My gut feeling is that the Cube will win.  But, if not, I am sure it will be up there with the best the RapMan has to offer.

Now, remember, BOTH are sold by the same company.  So, this isn't going to be pitting a favorite against another manufacturer.  It's going to be an honest evaluation between two lines in the same company.  And, I have no reason to sway the results one way or the other.   It will be what it is.

I can tell you this, now that I have the RapMan 3.2 out of the box and spread across a 4'x8' table.  There is something VERY appealing about the "Out of the Box Experience" of the Cube vs. the "Building Experience" of the RapMan!  To say that there are 8 billion parts to be put together to get the RapMan up and running HAS to be just a TINY exaggeration.

I'm not a coward.  But, this task has me shaking in my boots.  OK.  I AM a bit of a coward.  But, even if I weren't a coward, this task would have me shaking.  I'll let you know if I live through it.

In the meantime, I want to welcome you.  

And, in the spirit of Valentine's day, I want to let you know that I LOVE creative people like yourself.  I know you are a creative person or you wouldn't be interested in 3D printing.  And, I look forward to sharing the anticipation and experience that the Cube is destined to bring into our lives.  This is going to be fun!


One of the truly great things about publishing a blog is that it brings you into contact with wonderfully creative people that, otherwise, you would never get to know.  Whenever a person signs up to be a member of one of my blogs I try to get to know them better.  ChinaBullShop (Tim Shapcott) is the newest member, as I write this, and his story confirms my belief that people reading this blog are at the top when it comes to creativity.  Take a look at his Flickr page.  You will find that his Flickr page has some 3D images related to a personal project he took on over the Advent Calendar for Christmas.  You can even check them out and download them from the Bits and Bytes site.   His photography is gorgeous and his photos are available for sale through PhotoboxGallery.com.  

Making these kinds of connections is exactly WHY I find blogging so rewarding.  Nice work Tim!

Sunday, February 12, 2012

The Cube - It's REAL... It's GOOD!

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.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

A Worldwide Community Grows

In past posts we featured a designer from India.  In fact, I think we have featured TWO designers from India.  And, now we travel to Europe to meet another designer in our worldwide community and have an opportunity to learn from their 3D printing experience.

The designer is Trompevenlo and the featured model is called "Lady Justice".

While "Lady Justice" is the sole design uploaded so far, it is actually one of a set of original figures created by Trompevenlo.  

What struck me as I viewed the images for this design, was that it is obvious that it is a picture of an object that was printed by a 3D printer!  Let's have a closer look.  Notice the texture.

This was intriguing!  So, it was time to find out more about this artist!  :)

Using the key words "Bubble men", it wasn't long before I arrived at this delightful site originating in the Netherlands.  Even the logo is delightful.

But, it doesn't stop there.  I could show you some of the other pieces in the "Bubble Men" series along with another series called "The Scrappies".  But, I'd much rather you visit their site and enjoy ALL of their work, which is definitely worth exploring.  While there are areas still under construction, that will not stop you from enjoying the trip.  And, I'm sure that you will join me in hoping ALL of the designs find their way to the Cubify site.

As my granddaughters would describe them "They're FUN and SPECIAL!"

But, there is another good reason for visiting www.Trompe.nl.  And, that is a very informative video that shows how their designed are currently turned into bronze sculptures.  I found it fascinating.  I hope that Trompevenlo will share their experience at turning designs into printed objects.  I'm sure there is a lot we can learn from them.

Oh!  I almost forgot.  Check out their video showing the conversion of a 2D image into a 3D Cameo!

Thank you Trompevenlo for a nice trip to a nice site!

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!!!

February, Love, the Taj Mahal and 3D Printing

Long ago at a far away place (at least from where I'm sitting writing this in Maryland) lived a beautiful woman who was deeply loved by her husband.  Her name was Mumtaz Mahal .  And, by all accounts she was a very beautiful and kind woman.

She was married to the rich and powerful Mughal ruler Shah Jahan.

Their love is legendary.  But, one of the things that has made it one of the greatest love stories in history is that it was a union cut short by death and punctuated by the deepest grief.  Imagine being the richest, most powerful man in your kingdom and being completely helpless as life slipped away from the one you loved so deeply.

Shah Jahan, could have simply spiraled down in his grief.  But, instead, he did something so remarkable and beautiful that, today, both he and is wife are remembered and their love celebrated by people around the world.  He constructed a building in her honor and as a testament of his great admiration and love for her.  This building is the famous Taj Mahal.

It's fitting that we should remember this couple on the first day of February.  And, it's also fitting that we do so on a blog devoted to the Cube, Cubify and 3D Printing.  And, that is because one of the first printable 3D designs that were uploaded into the Cubify Store is this tribute to Shah Jahan's wonderful achievement by designer Rameshjadhav.

I don't know about you.  But, I'm very happy to be reminded about Shah Jahan and Mumtaz Mahal by this design.  As a teacher, this is a marvelous project to print in the classroom.

We're also reminded of Valentine's Day and love by another designer on Cubify.  Cre83D is to be credited with being the first person to get my wife really excited about 3D printing.  She knew is was cool.  She knew it could do useful things.  She knew it could be valuable to our sculptor daughter.  But, the finally "Got it!" when she saw the designs that Cre83D had uploaded.

This one is called "Double Love".

But, it was his other design that might end up costing me some serious money!

It's called "Sweet Heart".

The reason for my concern is that she had me post a comment asking him to create a new design that incorporates prongs for a stone!  Remember, we can print in plastic and send that plastic to be printed in precious metals!  And, my daughter is a jeweler!!!  So, I'm thinking that this might end up being a serious drain on my income!!!  Yikes!

And, of course, she will point out that if Shah Jahan could build a Taj Mahal for his wife,  it's the LEAST I can do to buy her a ring!  :)

I have spent some time with the 2D craft community and I know that making things that show their love to family and friends is probably THE biggest driving force in their creations and projects.  So, I'm convinced that the same will be the case in the 3D Printing community.

So, I am very, very happy to feature the work of  Rameshjadhav and Cre83D  on this first day of February.  Thanks to both of you!