Thursday, May 10, 2012

DC Stop - Cube Impressions

The Cube came to DC yesterday on the Cubify Odyssey Tour.   It was great seeing Adam again and meeting the tour team.  I will be posting some images later today and talk about the day.

But, right now I want to focus on the most important things for future Cube owners that I learned yesterday.


Anyone that has a RepRap 3D printer can really appreciate how scary it would be to mount 5 RepRaps in a Nissan Cube (NOT a Lincoln Town Car by any means!) and driving thousands of miles over every kind of terrain and running them in every kind of weather.  As much as I like my RapMan, it shakes nuts and bolts loose just sitting on a table!

Yet, the Cubes have made that trip and every one are still up and running like it was the first day of the adventure.

It reminds me of the days in the infancy of the automobile where manufacturers would compete in  marathon automobile races to prove the reliability of the newfangled horseless carriage!  I find the Cube's achievement in reliable performance to be very impressive.


Changing reels of filament in a RepRap isn't a terrible ordeal.  But, it is way more time consuming than it is with the Cube.  And, there is a big difference in the process.  With the Cube it is a two button operation.... Unload and Load. 


Because most RepRap printers are kit built, they include a process for leveling the bed.  Any, changes to the framework of the printer requires re-leveling.  The Cube's design does away with the need for the user to level the print bed.


In an earlier post I show a mechanics gauge that I use for precisely setting the gap between the print head and the print bed.  Again, I check this fairly often to maintain the best prints possible.  The Cube handles this for us automatically.  Take the Cube out of the box and start printing.


It is no secret that the only aspect of 3D printing that is less than enjoyable for me is removing raft and support materials.  The software for my current 3D printer will not allow me to turn off the raft even though I know that the item should not need one.  The software that comes with the Cube does give us that choice.  The tour team was printing a number of items having no raft and they held perfectly while printing and were easily removed on completion.  This is no small deal to me.


One of the things that was mentioned to me, as I explained to Adam, how much I was going to enjoy being able to turn off the raft, was that the Cube uses a new and better support strategy that is more common to the bigger machines than to the previous lines of extrusion printers.  The result is support that is easier to remove than what I've been used to.

This is very good news.  When I post the images I took, I'll point out a picture that demonstrates at least some of the differences I noticed right away.  But, I don't know that I have any really good images of support materials that had to be removed.  I know how to force a 3D printer to need supports.  So, one of the first things I'll do is check out the new support strategy.  But, if what I'm hearing is as good as it sounds, I am going to be one happy camper!!


While in general, I am not wild about having a single supplier for consumer products.  But, the reality is that at least at first Cube filament will probably only be available through 3D Systems.  That's categorically a bad thing, right?  Wrong!

I have tried filament from a fairly wide variety of vendors for my RapMan 3.2.  While I have found some suppliers whose products work well, I have yet to find one, outside of Bit From Bytes whose materials will immediately work well in my 3D printer.  I always have to create a new material profile and fiddle with the settings until I get the filament for behave well.  And, in at least two cases, I've had to abandon the material because it clogged my extruder's head to the point where I had to take the extruder apart and was fearful of having to completely replace it.

Yes, I am certain that we're going to have to pay more for the filament that we might if there was pressure from 3rd party vendors.  But, I've got to tell you that having the assurance of high quality materials with no need to fiddle with material profiles is a lot more important to me than the slightly higher premium in material costs.  Plus, we always have to factor in the waste of continually having to expend materials in testing new profiles.

To me, having one source at this point is a GOOD thing... not a BAD thing.  It gets us working immediately and keeps us working longer with less difficulty.


I already knew this from my visit to the 3D Systems headquarters a few months ago.  But, it is worth pointing out both the compact size and the light weight of the Cube.  Don't be fooled by the light weight.  It is still one tough machine.  But, being able to put the Cube in my car and taking it anywhere I'd like is an enormous advantage over my current printer.  And, it's an advantage that I plan to use a LOT.


I love the look, feel and toughness of items printed in ABS.  Unfortunately, I do not have a heated bed for my RapMan and without a heated bed I find it impossible to print ABS parts without the dreaded warping that ends up in aborted runs and distorted prints.  The primary reason that the Cube is able to use ABS plastic is that the Cube's print bed IS heated.  Plus, 3D Systems has come up with a proprietary coating that they call "Magic Glue" that is used on the print bed to further prevent warping.  I watched as an item that I KNEW would warp on my 3D printer, because of it's size, was successfully printed without lifting up at all.  I'm looking forward to finally being able to use ABS for my printed items!


My current RapMan printer is quiet enough that it is run in our home over night without disturbing anyone.  But, the Cube is even more quiet than the RapMan.  I hadn't known to focus on noise in my visit to see the Cube the first time.  But, this time it was one of the things I knew I wanted to check out since I now know I want to print at any hour of the day or night.


A quick visit on one day isn't enough for a definitive review.  But, I was very impressed by what I saw.  They will begin shipping May 25th.  So, I should have a machine in my hands before June.  And, I can assure you that it will be run virtually non-stop just as my RapMan has been.  In the meantime I believe that I have enough information to be convinced that the Cube can go head to head with any RepRap printer and come out on top in everything but build size.  And, believe me, build size is NOT the most critical aspect for 99% of us.  I have yet to use the full build size of my RapMan and out of hundreds of items printed, maybe one or two have exceeded the print envelope of the Cube.  To me the Cube is a clear contender for anyone considering a 3D printer and will be my suggestion to anyone that asks me for my opinion unless they have some highly unusual requirements that suggest otherwise. 


  1. Sorry, my English is not very good ...but... you said: "Again, I check this fairly often to maintain the best prints possible. The Cube handles this for us automatically. Take the Cube out of the box and start printing." this is not true. So I sent the first impression on the cube, I saw that the high was wrong and had to adjust the base, not only in height but also lateral level.

  2. Hi Fernando.

    You are correct. Now that the Cube has been shipping to a very wide audience, I have heard of one or two that have required adjustments on arrival.

    But, it is still true for most new Cube owners, as it was for me when I received mine. No adjustment was required before I could begin to print.

    Whether it is a manufacturing issue, a packaging issue or a shipping treatment issue... the good news is that it has been extremely rare based on the feedback I've gotten. Notice that yours is the first such comment up here. That should say something about most user's experience.