Sunday, April 22, 2012

Getting Ready for the Cube - Minimizing Support

The Cube Tour Team has been working hard to share the Cube 3D printing experience with people across the country,   It's been a lot of fun following them and seeing the images and videos.

I could simply link to their page to fill space on this blog.  But, I'm assuming that if you have found this blog then you already know how to find the Cubify web site and blog.  So, while they have been busy preparing for the Cube's release, I also have been busy working to do all I can to make your first encounter with 3D printing to be a good one.

If you have owned a 3D printer before and are adding a Cube to your stable of 2D printers, I think you are going to be very pleasantly surprised by the great quality packed into a small footprint.  If you have never owned a 3D printer before, you are in for a very, very cool adventure.
Whatever your level of experience, this blog exists for YOU.

And, there are some things that we can begin to discuss before your printer arrives that I hope will enhance your experience.  So, I've been busy creating examples and samples that will demonstrate certain realities that come with 3D printing.  The first of these realities is that we can control, at least at some level, how much support materials will be required to successfully print an object.

And, the good news is that we don't have to print the object to check our designs.  We can view them inside the application that we use to create the file that the Cube uses to print our object.

First, let's look at the test design that was saved in STL format...

The test design consists of a panel through which holes of various types have been cut.  The far left hole was formed by combining a circle and a pentagon.  This was done to see if adding a bit of the pentagon shape would be enough to keep the software from determining that support is needed,

Here is the result when the STL was converted to a file that is compatible with the 3D printer's printing engine.  The software that does the conversion let's us see how the object will actually be printed.  It includes not only the object; but, the required support materials as well.

As you can see, there is only one shape and orientation that did not require some support materials.  And that shape is a 5 sided regular polygon known as a pentagon.  However, one test does not mean a definitive result.  Here is another test with smaller (3mm) holes through a thicker panel and in additional shapes.

The results for this test were a bit different.

As you can see, as is consistent with the previous test, the pentagon, pointed up, again, did not require support.  But, neither did the round hole.  If we do not want supports in round holes, we will need to check the final file before sending it to the printer.

On the other hand, the Hexagon was a bit of a shock.  I would have expected the exact opposite of this result!  The square hole needed support.  Yet, the hexagon having a flat top did NOT need a support.  Then why did the hexagon having an apex at the top need one?

It's a mystery to me.

But, I've learned to take what the 3D printer conversion software gives me... and, that is a consistent behavior for the pentagon having a peak at the top.  I can count on not needing any support for a pentagonal hole.

This is the kind of thing I hope to identify for you in order for you to have less frustration with your own designs.  Support materials are our friends.  But, they are also annoying.  If we can design to minimize the need for support, our 3D printing lives will be easier.  :)

Monday, April 9, 2012

Significant Changes on the Cubify Site!

To be honest, I was beginning to be more than a little concerned that the Cubify web site was actually going to be a weight around Cube sales' neck.  I have been involved with a lot of Beta programs and normally sites in beta have some significant direct interaction with users.  In this respect, the Cubify beta site seemed isolated to the point of inactivity.

Fortunately, appearances were deceiving.  That became a wonderful revelation with the sudden appearance of a whole new look and a whole new store infrastructure that solves some of my most severe criticisms of the old beta site.

So let's take a look!

The home page - Top Section

Cubify Home Page Screen Grab - 04/09/2012

The first thing that struck me is that the photography and layout are stunning.  But, the beauty also extends to revealing some of the capabilities of the Cube.  There are some items I'd not seen before.  And, take at look at that yellow shoe!!!  It's smooth as glass with none of the distortion that I saw on my visit to 3D Systems headquarters.  I'm particularly impressed by the blue object just next to the Cube.  It prompts all kinds of questions regarding support materials and support material strategies.

And don't miss that invitation to pre-order your own WiFi supported Cube.  

The home page - Button Section

I'm going to quibble a bit with the order of the major buttons.  Let's assume that I already own a Cube, which I do not.  In order of importance, to me as a Cube owner the buttons would be (1) 3D Printable Creations (2) Cube 3D Printer (including support and replacement materials) and (3) Co-create using Apps.

I'll discuss more about Cubify and how it fits with the Cube in a later post.  But, I can say this.  Without the Cube I'm not all that interested in Cubify.

Even so, this is a big improvement over our introduction to the Cubify site when it first went up.

I'm impressed!

In this post, we will only address two of the Home Page menu items. That is because the others deserve posts dedicated to themselves. 

Menu - Explore

Frankly, I've been giving them a fit about the first site's organization when it came to mixing rendered models with printable models.  Had it stayed the way it was it would have been very difficult for me to be excited about it.  I understood that their ultimate goal for Cubify was to be a source for all things 3D.  But, I worried that the rendered models were creating too much noise for those of us that wanted items that could be printed on our Cubes or ordered from the Cubify Cloud.

THANKFULLY, they have VASTLY improved the situation with a whole new organization and infrastructure. 

The biggest improvement is in using buttons to create a clear distinction between Printable Creations and Render Models.  And, by having printable creations as the default.  The next big improvement is the Categories List.  I am going to go out on a limb and assume that this list will grow as the need arises in a hierarchical fashion.

One of the problems that all 3D model download sites have is that is it very difficult to find exactly what you want without wading through page after page of images.  Right now that isn't a problem on the Cubify site.  But, the site designers need to be aware that finding ways to narrow down a search is a good thing.  This is certainly a start.

Interestingly, many of the Render Model samples appear to be potentially printable.  Once again, I will assume that this is an artifact of the beta process.

Clicking on one of the printable creations opens a great dialogue that offers us several choices, from printing our own, through various plastic alternatives and at least in some cases, being able to purchase full color models from the Cubify Cloud.  A button, or lack thereof, let's us know what options are available for any given object.

All in all this is a very welcome improvement that finally gives me the confidence that the Cubify site will be able to go toe to toe with the other 3D sites.

Menu - Creative Partners

Clicking on the Creative Partners menu choice brings us to some wonderful news.  I can't think of two better partners to enhance our user experience than Freedom of Creation and My Robot Nation.

Freedom of Creation is behind most of the most innovative samples we've seen on the Cubify Site.  They vastly expand the range of possible choices when ordering from the Cubify Cloud.  We'll talk more about this in a later post.

My Robot Nation, in two words, is "Simply Marvelous"!  I am so impressed by what they do and how they do it that I have purchased somewhere around 20 robots for various children and adults.  Yes, adults!    It is not only the beautifully easy design process that they've created to design the robots.  It is also the fact that they know, better than almost everyone else, how to communicate to their users.  Creating a robot on My Robot Nation is a class act from start to finish.  And, I am VERY happy to see them be a part of the Cubify experience.

If 3D Systems keeps signing up partners of the calibre of these two wonderful companies, the Cubify experience can only get better and better.

In a subsequent posts we will explore the rest of the Cubify Home Page menu selections.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Keeping up with Adam, Kelly and the Cube Odyssey

Things are moving fast out in California as the Cube's Cube's fantastic makeover is nearing completion.

I could post pictures here.  But, I'd much rather send you right on over to the Cube Blog to check out the progress since our last update. 

Kelly is out there now so they are getting ready to ROLL!  (Sans beer while driving, of course.)

An Informative Cube Video from CNN

Here is a link to an interview with 3D Systems' CEO Abe Reichenthal that aired on CNN.

You'll have to wait through an ad for 17 seconds.  But, it will be worth the wait.

It demonstrates items created on the new Cube 3D printer and also some items available through the Cubify web site created on high end 3D printers.

The point is that 3D Systems is opening up a broad range of possibilities for consumers from printing at home to having our designs printed on the best and most expensive printers available.'

Check it out!