Thursday, January 31, 2013

Assessing Value vs. Absolute Capabilities

I've been hard at work designing, what for me, is probably my most exciting Cube project to date... an iPhone to Microscope adapter.

Along the way I have had to address various design issues within the capabilities of my first generation Cube.

At the same time, Chris and Mike, two extremely astute Cube users, have been doing their own research into the behaviors of their Cubes and we've been carrying on dialogs via email or through comments on this blog about their findings.  As I pondered what we were discovering, it dawned on me that all of us were pushing the Cube beyond the purposes for which it is designed.  And, while I don't think that is a bad thing, I do think we must always keep that in perspective.

Perhaps the best way to illustrate what I am trying to say is to introduce you to some of the microscopes that I own and explain how I view the VALUE of each within a PRICE/PERFORMANCE context.  It's useful to make some comparisons between various microscopes in my stable of scopes from C & A Scientific.


When most people think of microscopes their immediate image is of a compound microscope, so we will start there.  Each of the compound microscopes we'll examine for VALUE is designed and priced for a specific target market.  Very young users, student users and professionals.  Let's start at the top, with the MRJ-03T.

C & A Scientific MRJ-03T

This probably the most expensive of my microscopes.  And, clearly it has the best optics and the smoothest overall operation.  For the money it is an exceptional value and I have fitted it with a Dark Field condenser for studying protozoa.  From a PERFORMANCE point of view it is clearly better than one of the lesser expensive student compound microscopes... like this one, the MS-03L

C & A Scientific MS-03L

This microscope is less than half the cost of the MRJ-03T.  Yet, from the point of view VALUE or PRICE/PERFORMANCE ratio, they are equal in every respect.  In fact, I probably use the MS-03L a great deal more than my MJ-03T because I love the fact that I do not have to plug it in.  It uses LED lighting and the optics are excellent for the cost.

But, as great as it is in terms of value, I cannot expect it to meet the more stringent requirements that can be met with the MRJ-03T.  It's more difficult to mount a camera, since it is not a trinocular design.  More importantly, I cannot mount a dark field condenser on a student scope.  To expect it to perform at the level of the MRJ-03T is just plain unfair.  It is far better to realize the great value it represents for the market for which it was intended.


When I think of VALUE when it comes microscopes I invariably think LOW-POWER STEREO.  Of all my microscopes I use this type most often.  I even use then to test for print characteristics of my 3D printers!

Again, let's start with the most expensive that I own, the trinocular SMZ-04.

C & A Scientific SMZ-04

This microscope sits on my desk, right beside me, at all times.  I love it.  Look through this blog and you will see images that have come from this scope using various dedicated digital microscope cameras.  It zooms from 10x-40x and the trinocular feature allows for easy attachment of a microscope camera.  It is a great VALUE for those needing the highest performance from a stereo microscope.  But, what about a student stereo microscope that cannot zoom and is not a trinocular design like the SMD-04 that costs about 1/10th the price of an SMZ-04?

C & A Scientific SMD-04

What you are seeing in the above image is what I consider to be THE greatest VALUE in terms of PRICE/PERFORMANCE of any microscope available today.  Sure, I could gripe that it's made of plastic and fixed at 20x.  But, that's the point!  It was designed to be able to be sold at a cost that consumers could afford while still providing excellent optics FOR THE MONEY.  Before the SMD-04 was introduced the cost of a stereo microscope was prohibitive to most consumers.  Now, I can tell any parent that this is the best microscope they could purchase for their child because it can do so many things.  The LED lighting means that you can even take it to the woods or beach to study nature up close and personal.  The cost is so low that even if if should be dropped and damaged, it's easily replaceable.

I believe in the high VALUE of this little microscope so much that I'd donated cases of them to my granddaughter's school and the Delaware Nature Society's Ashland Nature Center!

Yet, I have to be realistic about not expecting this wonderful scope to deliver beyond the criteria of its design.  And, that brings us back to the Cube 3D printer.


I have other microscopes from C & A Scientific that range in price and capabilities from the very bottom to the very top.  And, I consider each of them a VALUE in terms of their PRICE/PERFORMANCE ratio.  What I tell people, when they ask about a particular scope, is that it is a great VALUE FOR THE MONEY and for its INTENDED MARKET.

By this criteria not a single one of my microscopes would a waste of resources as long as the user did not expect more of the product than that for which it was priced and designed.  Yet, they clearly have widely varying features and capabilities.
I can't say this about microscope cameras... which is why I have worked hard to create an iPhone to Microscope adapter.  But, that is for another post!  :)

I know.  It would be wonderful if a $1299 3D printer could have the accuracy of a top of the line milling machine.  But, then it wouldn't be a $1299 3D printer.  It would have to be many multiples of that cost.

The Cube is designed to bring the benefits of 3D printing into the home and school environment at a reasonable cost.  And, it uses techniques and materials that allow it to deliver 3D printing at that cost.  But, these materials (plastic) and techniques (melting plastic) come with some very real benefits and limitations.  The Cube's accuracy is, at least to some extent, dominated by physics.  When plastic is melted and it cools, it contracts.  That's simple physics.

In the near future we will be talking about some of the observations that we have made about the performance of the cube related to accuracy, etc.  But, these should always be considered in light of  (1) the original market for which this 3D printer is designed and (2) the COST/PERFORMANCE ratio... or VALUE of the printer within the design goals for the target market for which it was intended... NOT a use for which we are trying to make it work outside of that design goals.

Yes, we are going to try and push the envelope of the Cube and the Cube materials.  But, rather than complaining that it cannot do what it was never designed to do, we will try to find ways to come CLOSE to simulating, through our own design techniques, the performance of more costly 3D printers.

So, like the SMD-04, I consider the Cube 3D printer, and in particular the Next-Gen Cube 3D printer to be the best VALUE in 3D printing for families and educational institutions available today.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Warning to Curious Cube #1 Users

While the new Cube Client can be used with both First-Gen Cubes and Next-Gen Cubes, and some Next-Gen features might safely be experimented with on First-Gen Cubes, using PLA is NOT one of them.

I am NOT planning, under any circumstances, to test printing PLA in my First-Gen Cube until someone at 3D Systems confirms that it is OK.  And, I do not think that is likely.

Frankly,  I can't think of any good reason for doing so.  ABS is stronger than PLA and we have a heated bed.

No one at 3D Systems has confirmed my theory; but, my experience with PLA in a RepRap machine tells me that not only will PLA not work well at the First-Cube's temperatures; but, may damage the feed mechanism.  That potential just does not seem worth the risk to me, for so little gain.

Printing temperature for ABS is around 240C to  248C.  Printing temperature for PLA is begins at 190C and typically averages around 210C.  That's quite a big differential.

Here's my theory of the probable outcome...

First, remember that the filament is being pushed down a shaft before being melted at the tip.  In order to work properly the filament must be solid at the entry of the shaft to be heated and only reach the right temperature at or near the tip.  With ABS, the shaft at the entry point is just slightly lower than the melting point of the ABS itself.  So, the feed gear pushing on the filament is able to push the filament some distance into the shaft before it reaches the melting temperature at the tip.

Since the optimal melting temperature for printing ABS is quite a bit higher than the optimal temperature for PLA, running PLA through the head of the First-Gen Cube is likely to heat the PLA to the melting point higher up in the shaft where the melted plastic could back up into the threading mechanism. 

So while the entry to the shaft might be below the melting point of ABS it is likely ABOVE the melting point of PLA.  The PLA material will be too molten to be able to be pushed deeply into the shaft and I expect the molten PLA will flush back into the housing and then cool, causing more than a simple clog.  It could cause actual damage to the head feeding mechanism.

I'm aware that I may be completely off base.  But, I'm not willing to risk it.  I'll stick with the ABS for which the First-Gen Cube was designed.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Thaw Iced Cubes Carefully

This comes under the heading of "What NOT to do with a Cube".

I managed to short out the control board or power supply on my Cube due to condensation that formed when I left my Cube in the trunk of my car overnight in sub-freezing temperatures, brought it into a warm room and immediately tried to start it.

Bad idea.

I should have known better.  Back in my years of video production with reel-to-reel video recorders I learned that condensation instantly can form on cold equipment when it's brought inside.  The tape would actually stick to the head drum from moisture forming on the drum.  We ALWAYS waited a few minutes before turning on our video tape machines that had gone from very cold conditions to a warm room.

Now, I know that leaving a Cube in the truck of my car in sub-freezing temperatures requires that same patience in starting up that Cube in a warm room.  Even a few minutes would have made a difference.

It's not that the Cube cannot survive the cold.  The outdoor studio in which mine usually sets regularly goes down below freezing.  But, I always warm of the building before firing up the Cube and so no moisture is formed due to the differences between the ambient temperature of the air and the Cube.  Both air and Cube warm simultaneously.

In this particular case the air was warm and the Cube was cold.  As we all learned in Science this can cause the water in the warm air to condense on the cold surface.  Water on electrical surfaces is NOT a good thing.

It's now in the hands of the good Cube doctors who will be performing open Cube surgery.  I'm told the prognosis is good and it should be back home shortly.  That is very good news.  I'm suffering a severe case of Cube withdrawal.  I've still got my RepRap; but, it's just not the same.


It's OK to let your Cube go below freezing.  But, when bringing a freezing Cube into a warm room, give the Cube some time to warm up before turning it on. Better safe than sorry.


Keep watching the comments to this post as Mike continues to troubleshoot and make additional discoveries.  Thank you Mike for taking the time to chase this down!

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Chris Crowley Spots New Cubify Software!

I just got an email from Chris Crowley alerting all of us to the fact that there is a new unified version of Cubify Software.  It works with both the original Cube and the new Next-Gen Cube.

Cubify Software 2.0

He tells me that some features are only available for the new Next-Gen Cube and are greyed out when paired when the original Cube is selected.

More as we are able to test it....

Since I fried my Cube at Hagley, Chris will be looking for any impact this new version has on original Cube owners.  I had left my Cube in the truck of my car over night in sub-freezing temperatures and then brought it into a warm room and immediately tried to start it up.  We think that condensation was the problem and shorted something.  The Cubify engineers are looking at it now so that the precise cause can be pinpointed.

But, for now, be warned if your printer is brought in from a super cold environment, it's probably a good idea to let it warm up a while, allowing any condensation to evaporate, before firing it up.

The printer is normally located in an outside studio where temperatures go down below freezing.  But, both the ambient temperature of the room and the Cube are the same in that situation.  As I warmed the room up, the printer was also warmed.  So, I'd never seen an issue.

I should have known better because we had the same issue with video tape recorders in the past.  The tape would actually stick to the rotary drum due to moisture!  Sigh....

I can hardly wait to get it back.  I love that printer.

Thanks to Chris for the early heads-up!

I downloaded the new software (ver. 2.0.0) yesterday, and installed it. I did have a couple of problems others may not have, but I'll flag them here anyway.

1) After installation, Windows 7 wouldn't run the program, saying the program was having problems. In the end, I figured out that setting the "compatibility" setting for the Cube.exe file to "run as Administrator" fixed that. The Cube support folks told me they already were aware of that, and the next release will fix that.

2) If you use WiFi (WPS, at least) to send files to the printer, be aware that after you install the 2.0.0 software, you MUST do a firmware update on the Cube to the 1.09 firmware. Until you do you can still link your PC and the original Cube printer, but file transfers via the "Print" immediately fail, and there's no info regarding why. I've passed that info on to the Cubify support folks also.

I've only just gotten those problems out of the way and haven't had time to print more than one quick test file, and won't get back to it for a while soon. So Chris will likely have more to say about how it all works.

 THANKS Mike.  (The comment is below; but, important enough to also highlight here!)

Hagley Invention Convention - Visitor's Perspective

What keeps you pumped up for three full days and hours on end at an event is the people you meet.  And, Hagley's Invention Convention was a prime example of this.  I had a wonderful time.  But, I was working the table.  How was it for the visitor that came by the Cube table to learn about 3D printing and see the new Next-Gen Cube.

The following photos give us a bit of a hint.  They were taken by Joe Pulcinella, a parent and professional photographer.  Now, he didn't lug along his massive Canon SLR and professional lights to Hagley.  After all, this was to be a fun father-child outing. But, when I saw him taking pictures with his smaller camera, and saw the quality, I asked him if he would mind letting me put them up on this blog so that you could see what he saw.  He was kind enough to send some to share with you.

Next-Gen Cube - Hagley Invention Convention (Joe Pulcinella)

The Cubify team kept the prototype Next-Gen Cubes running non-stop, printing in both ABS and PLA.  The printing table mount will be a bit different in the production machines that ship this month.  This is the "pink" version of the new Cube. 

A Favorite - The Owl  (Joe Pulcinella)

My eldest granddaughter had the same reaction when she saw the owl.  She wanted one.  What made this particular owl so special was the new resolution of the Next-Gen Cube.  The detail is stunning.  Behind the owl is Keith Ozar, of the Cubify Team.  Remember that name, you are going to see it a lot.  More about that later.  :)

Sisters Studying the Cube's Print  (Joe Pulcinella)

It was fun to watch how the children and parents took great care to learn how the Cube created the objects.  First. they took the time to watch the printing process and ask questions.  But, most also wanted to pick up the printed pieces and explore them in depth.  This was the "Blue" version of the Next-Gen Cube.

Studying the Cube's Print Up Close (Joe Pulcinella)'s

I've been printing with a 3D printer for a while now.  But, even I had to pick up the Rhino and experience for myself how smoothly it was printed with the Next-Gen Cube.  And, I also have to marvel that this was printed without requiring either raft or supports!  Be sure to click on the image to see it at full size.

Intense Focus on the Cube Printing   (Joe Pulcinella)

Seeing people intently trying to drink in exactly how the Next-Gen Cube worked its magic was a lot of fun.  But, seeing the quality of the printed output was equally fun.  The large rook, alligator and planter were all created on the Next-Gen Cube.  Again, click on an image to see those teeth in the jaws of that croc and be amazed that they were not only very sharp... But, printed without any support at all!

(I still have to find the site to download the Alligator and Rhino.  When I do, I will update this blog entry with the links.)

Thank you Joe.  I enjoyed meeting you and our discussions about what a wonderful job the Cubes were doing.  I really appreciate the pictures and I'm sure the readers are equally appreciative.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

1st Generation Cube in Light of 2nd Generation Cube

Christmas is less than a month ago.  And, perhaps. you purchased or received a 1st Generation Cube only to learn that the 2nd Generation Cube ("Next-Gen Cube") has been announced.  I suppose that one might feel justified in wondering if you made the right decision to be a very early adopter.

I just spent 2 days with the new Next-Gen Cube at Hagley with members of the Cubify team.  It's a marvelous printer.  And, the response was wonderful!

2nd Generation Cube - Hagley Invention Convention

Yes, it's a bit faster.  Yes, it prints in PLA and ABS.  Yes, it's accuracy is approved.   But, did it make me regret the fact that I own the 1st Generation Cube?  No.  Not at all.

Here's why...

The minute I saw the Next-Gen Cube and saw the crowd's reaction and heard their comments, I know that 3D printing is probably becoming a common, mainstream item a LOT faster than even I would have guessed one year ago.  And, this means something very special to 1st Generation Cube owners.

You most likely have the ONLY consumer 3D printer that will ever be released that has the unique advantages of a heated bed.  Not, only that; but, by having a printer that is easily identifiable as THE 3D printer that started it all, when it comes to consumer 3D printers, you are instantly in a very special class of people that was smart enough and had enough foresight to be among the first to recognize the value of 3D printing in the home or personal office.  You have THE 1st Edition.  And, 1st Editions have a special place in the sun.

Personal 3D printing is going to be an enormous game changer.  I'm not sure it will be as significant as the Gutenberg's printing press.  But, that's at least a possibility.  And, you and I have the functional equivalent of a 1st Edition printed on that famous press.  Everybody else that is going to jump on the bandwagon will own the 2nd Edition or the 3rd Edition.

Perhaps an even better analogy is Edison's first phonograph that used cylinder's vs his later phonograph that used a flat record.  I can imagine the chagrin of the buyer that had just purchased the cylinder phonograph only to read that the flat record player had been released!  Yet, I'm sure you can agree that owning THE first photograph invented is a LOT cooler than owning the second or third version!  In the end, who had the most valuable model?  :)

Some day, being astute enough to have owned THE 3D printer that started it all is going to make a difference in a job interview, a college scholarship or perhaps even directly financially from a collector.  It is going to be something you can look back on talk about with a special sense of pride and satisfaction.

While I love the advances of the new Next-Gen Cube.  I see nothing that makes me regret having a 1st Generation Cube.  It only makes me proud that I had the vision to be among the first and that my granddaughters knew what it was to experience 3D printing well before their classmates.

The 1st Generation Cube is more than just a 3D printer.  It is that rare technological seed that grows a massive  movement.  Cherish it.  There will never be another quite like it.

Gee, we were smart to want one!!   :)

In the next post, I will introduce you to the newest member of the Cube family.  It is a beautiful child! And, it now comes in various colors.  My granddaughters insist I get a pink one!  And, of course, I'm told "It's a need, not a want."

They're getting a lot more clever at manipulating PopPop as they get older!   LOL!

Friday, January 18, 2013

See the Cube at Hagley Museum this Weekend!

Members of the Cubify team will be at the Hagley Museum in Wilmington, DE this weekend!  I am very excited to see this.  It is one of my favorite places to visit and the Invention Convention is one of my favorite events at Hagley.

Here is a news story from a past Invention Convention.  It is an AMAZING event!

Watch First for Friday, Jan. 28, 2011 on PBS. See more from First.

The Cubify team will be there with the new 2nd-Gen Cube on Friday and Saturday.  And, I will be there with my well-traveled Cube on Monday.  I would love to see you there!

Here is the Cubify Blog story.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

2nd-Gen Cube Wins Kids At Play Award for Innovation!

One of the great things about having a 3D printer is that it enhances our abilities to achieve better designs through iteration... beginning with one design, analyzing it to see if it meets our goals and coming up with an even better design.

Well, apparently, 3D Systems has applied that same design philosophy to the Cube 3D printer.

And, the proof is in the form of a very cool award.  The KAPi Award for Innovation in Children's Media!

KAPi Award for Innovation in Children's Media

You can read the Cubify blog's post about the award here.

But, I would like to tell you why this Award is so meaningful to me.   And, I had NOTHING to do with their winning it!!!  LOL!

From the very first time the Cube was announced, it was clear that 3D Systems was aiming right at the home and families.  Children were at the center of the focus, right from the very beginning.  They talked about creating apps that were "Coloring Book Simple", which frankly, I chided them about at the time.  But, I knew what they were trying to get at and, in fact, HAVE introduced apps that meet the spirit of those early claims!  And, they not only work; but, they are very cool!

While I do get to talk to people at 3D Systems from time to time about specific topics or questions I am not at all privy to their deeply guarded secrets.  So, I was quite surprised by the introduction of the 2nd Generation of the Cube.  And, more than a little bit perplexed about dropping my beloved heated printing platform.  But, it all makes sense now.

The goal, all along, was a FAMILY FRIENDLY 3D printer.  And, ultimately, that meant completely "Kid Safe".  While the 1st Generation Cube was certainly safe enough.  It is obvious, now, that 3D Systems felt it could be made even MORE safe for children.  And, that is exactly what they have done.  By finding a way to adhere ABS to an unheated bed and adding a little more protection around the print jet head, they managed to do what no other 3D printer manufacturer has ever achieved... It's hidden in this short little sentence...
"The Cube meets all IEC 60950 Printer Safety Requirements, making it the only consumer 3D printer that is safe for at-home use by adults and children alike."
In just one design cycle after the original release of the Cube, the designers managed to achieve another first... being the ONLY 3D printer meeting the stringent safety requirements embodied in IEC 60950.  (And, in the process also managed to improve the performance!)

This is no trivial achievement.  To design for ultimate safety as well as fun is a major innovative accomplishment.  It means that I can go forward with even MORE confidence encouraging parents and teachers to bring the Cubify 3D printer into their homes and schools.  As a former teacher and present grandfather, this a HUGE deal for me!

Congratulations Cubify Design Team!


In researching the KAPi awards I came across this page that describes the process.  About 4am this morning I awoke with an "AHA!" moment.  It dawned on me that I had missed the significance of the timing of the way the process works.  The nomination for the Cube that won the award had to have been submitted by November 2012!  I THINK that means that while it was the 2nd Generation Cube at the Awards Ceremony, it was the 1st Generation Cube that the judges considered worthy of the Innovation in Children's Media award! It started life as the most innovative and only got better!  Now, THAT is cool!

The Vexing Issue of FDM Edge Accuracy

I opened my email this morning to find this plea from a Cube owner.

" I was wondering if you could help me with a problem – every time I print something with my Cube it turns out a little bit bloated. That is 10mm holes turn out to be 9.5mm, and 10mm shafts turn out to be 10.5mm. This means that printing things like gears requires a lot of sandpaper work – I printed a small planetary gear system from Thingverse and it took me 5 hours to make it even fit. Do you have the same problem? Maybe you have some tips?

I would like to print something like a wankel engine model - - but I'm afraid that I will spend hours with sandpaper...

Best Regards

Andrzej T....."

Andrzej, you are not alone. 

And, in fact, Cube owners are not alone. This is a problem that affects most, if not all FDM (Fused Deposition Model i.e. Extrusion) printers. Here is a video that explores this issue on a huge printer costing more than $20,000! Here is an image of the printer...

Dimension BST 768

And, here is a video documenting the BST 768's issue common on smaller printers...

Now, I have to note that this was the experience of one user FIVE years ago. But, comments on the video seem to indicate that this behavior is shared by other users as well. It is possible that accuracy has increased in these high end models over the last 5 years. Even so, it is instructive to those of us with less expensive platforms.

We've written a little about this in the past and shown how we can alter our designs to allow for the fact that holes end up being slightly smaller than designed and outside edges (posts) end up being larger than designed.

The problem is quite acute when we download an STL file. If we try to reduce the size of the object in the Cubify client software then holes are reduced even more dramatically. If we try to expand the model to open the holes, then the outside edges are expanded more dramatically.

Some time ago, I suggested that the STL file, while convenient, was probably NOT the best sharing format among the 3D printing community because there are very few options for conversion to a format that can be modified with any finesse. Among Cube owners, the native Cubify Invent format would be a good alternative.

At some point, I will be visiting 3D Systems again to get a hands on look at the CubeX printer. When I actually have the opportunity to talk to the designers face to face, I want to try to gain some more insight on this issue to see if there are any realistic expectations of being able to deliver the kind of accuracy we expect from milling machines.

Remember, the material is being melted. So, that, in and of itself, might be part of the problem that 3D printer designer's face. But, the fact that we are bringing this up at all is a testament to how far we have come in just a few years. Back when I started blogging about the POTENTIAL for low cost desktop 3D printers, we felt lucky to be able to print a recognizable object!! That problem as long been solved and now we are talking about tenths of an inch. :)

This discussion is good because it sets higher goals for all of the 3D printer manufactures, The fact that 3D Systems is touting the increased accuracy of CubeX means they ARE listening and are having some success at pushing the accuracy envelope further.

Thank you Andrzej.

I wish I had a solution for STL files. But I don't. Let's hope that somebody out there might have one and share that with us. But, for now, "vexing" is the best way to describe it.

An Observation...

Orientation seems to have a bearing on accuracy. I think that I see that Y Axis, or VERTICAL accuracy, which depends on layer accuracy, is much closer than X and Y Axis accuracy. That may be because the physical tip of the print jet acts as a mini-trowel controlling the form of the molten plastic whereas there is no restriction on HORIZONTAL edge flow after the plastic leaves the print jet orifice. But, that is all conjecture on my part. LOL!


This is welcome news from 3D Systems in response to Andrzej's question...
"The 2nd gen Cube is 2X more accurate than the 1st gen
0.5mm dimensional tolerance over the length of PrintPad
And you are is a key focus."
I will be with some members of the Cubify team this weekend for an event in Wilmington, DE at the Hagley Museum. I will try to run my Hole vs. Post test on one of the 2D Generation machines. This is truly great news!
For those that are 1st Generation Cube owners, I can only tell you what my attitude is toward the fact that those buying the 2nd Generation Cube now are getting a more advanced machine. Having been an "early adopter" of most of the major consumer technologies from the late 1960's to now, I have learned that the secret to minimizing angst at rapid improvements is to use the life out of anything I purchase. In the time between I purchased my 5D MK II Canon and the announcement of the 5D MK III, with greatly improved video and low-light performance, I took more than 10,000 photos. Likewise, since I first opened my Cube, I believe that I have printed at least 100 items and probably way more. Even if I had to replace it today, it would have been a great investment. I'm just happy to see things progressing. :)

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

A Gem from one of our YouTube Subscribers

I am very thankful and pleased to be able to say that each day brings more and more viewers that subscribe to my YouTube channel.   While there is generally no way to directly communicate with a subscriber, I at least try to check out the subscriber's own YouTube channel.

Most have not uploaded a video of their own.  Even so, it is interesting to see the other things that people are interested in that are also interested in 3D printing. 

But, sometimes, the new subscriber is an active upload contributor to YouTube.  And, that is the case for the notice that I just received a few minutes ago.  The subscriber's handle is COSservices.  And, I have to say that it was a special joy to visit their channel!

Here is a sample of the work by Australian Deborah Brearley... There is music. so if you at the office, you might want to lower the sound.  Otherwise, it's perfect music for a beautiful video.

Creativity is largely about being able SEE in ways that most cannot.  I will never see an egg as something boring and all too familar again!


I love creative people and if you want to meet some of the cream of that crop, all you have to do is blog about 3D printing!  :)

Please visit Deborah's web site and larn more about her and her work!

If she hasn't already, I hope that she becomes a 3D printer owner soon!  I want to see more of  her work!

Blogging is SUCH a cool experience!

Sunday, January 13, 2013

3D Printing is about Growing Creative Brains

Anyone that thinks 3D printing is simply about printing plastic things, is so off target that it makes you believe that if anyone needs one, it's them!  LOL!

Ask ANYONE that has a 3D printer and you will quickly learn that what 3D printing is really all about is unleashing the creative potential that lies in every single human being's brain.

Yes, this blog is about the hardware and the tricks to designing and printing better pieces of plastic.  But, my major goal, for talking about a consumer 3D printer that is easy to use by both parents and children, is to enlighten parents and children on the benefits of having a 3D printer as a facilitator of creativity and discovery.

While I am not an expert on creativity, I am a student of the brain and the creative process.  And, I'm constantly looking for excellent books on the subject.  I just finished the one I will be telling you about today and am in the middle of another that I will mention at the end of this post.

Secrets to a Creative Mind by David Judd Nutting

Putting aside the rather scary looking cover, this is an excellent book by a man that I greatly admire.

Secrets to a Creative Mind

I have been very fortunate in my career to have worked with amazingly creative people.  And, at the very top of that list is not only Dave Nutting; but, the team he put together.  It takes a brilliant person to attract the kind of people that Dave inspired and mentored.

I worked with Dave when I was with Astrocade, which made and marketed the Bally Professional Arcade in the early 1980s.  Dave and his team had originally created the Bally home game system and remained the core design house for both hardware and software after Astrocade it over.

By the way, before that Dave designed the very first SUV, the Jeep Grand Wagoneer...

Jeep Grand Wagoneer Design by Dave Nutting
The Enstrom  Helicopter....

Enstrom Helicopter Design by Dave Nutting

And, perhaps most famously, the very first electronic pin ball game... Flicker...

Flicker - The First Electronic Pin Ball machine design by Dave Nutting

Working closely with Nutting Associates, I got to see and experience, first hand, just how creative Dave and his team were.  Though I know and have worked with people like Nolan Bushnell of Atari fame and incredibly creative  teams at Hasbro, Time-Life software and my current "day job", none eclipsed Dave Nutting and his team for sheer brilliance.

So, when he talks, I listen.

This is a book that can be read in a few hours.  And, in fact, he suggests that this is the best way to digest what he is trying to convey to help us tap into the creative potential in ALL of us.

Yes.  You CAN make yourself smarter.  Yes.  You CAN raise your IQ.

Dave's first book "Language of Nature" was about understanding the Quantum World that includes the wonderful randomness of nature that makes each of us unique individuals. 

This second book applies the principles of Quantum Physics to the creative process.  Where other self-help books might talk about the power of positive thoughts, this book tells us WHY and HOW to talk to and guide your sub-conscious with your rational mind to seek answers to complex problems.

Now, don't let the "Quantum Physics"  buzzword drive you away.  Dave explains everything in very simple, easy to understand terms.

I won't go into detail about the rest of the contents of this book, except to say that it fits the way I solved the problems that I face in creating the new designs that I post on this site.  Designing to avoid rafts and supports is not always easy.

But, where does the 3D printer come into all this.  Why am I SO convinced that combining Dave's technique with 3D printing has a multiplying effect?

It's because 3D printing helps us cycle our design mistakes faster.  Our mind conceives an idea and we can instantly test it and re-evaluate that idea in a tangible way.  Our mistakes become building blocks and not stumbling blocks. The results, good and bad, are re-fed to our incredible brain for more processing and design refinement.  With each iteration the brain is exercised both at the conscious and unconscious levels... combining new learning with old thoughts.  The result is a brain that has grown and connections that have expanded.  We become smarter.  

I am convinced that with encouragement and understanding HOW the brain works to grow itself, that parents that bring a 3D printer into their homes are making one of the best investments they could ever make in the futures of their children.

In a future post, I will talk about "How to Think Like Leonardo da Vinci: Seven Steps to Genius Every Day" by Michael Gelb.   I will be meeting him on Tuesday as part of a creativity boosting initiative at my day job.  I'm REALLY looking forward to it!

Last year, if you were following this blog back then, I briefly wrote about Alan Gregerman, who I met as part of that same annual creative process initiative.  Alan. wrote the wonderful book, "Surrounded by Geniuses".

And, THAT is where I want to be... and where I am the happiest!  Which, of course, is why I enjoy writing this blog which brings people like yourself into my life!  After all, you wouldn't be interested in 3D printing if you were not on that very same path.   :)

Friday, January 11, 2013

Cubify Draw and Cubify Sculpt

Sometimes, like Hansel and Gretal's bread crumbs, little gems can be found in unexpected places.

Take a look at this quote from the Cubify Blog...

"On display were the new 2nd generation Cube printer, the CubeX printer – (capable of printing an item up to the size of a basketball, and in up to 3 colors at once) and an array of 3D new technology like Cubify Sculpt,  Cubify Draw and many more exciting things to see."

Now, I have not idea how to find the "many more exciting things to see"  But, I DID manage to do a Google search and locate something that gives us some insight into Cubify Sculpt and Cubify Draw.

Entering "Cubify Draw" as the Google search phrase, I came across an entry called "Investor Webcast".  And this brought up a PDF of a CES release from 3D Systems that mentions Cubify Draw and Cubify Sculpt.

Cubify Draw

I captured this page from the PDF.  Click on the image for the full size.

As a former teacher, I can tell you that this is going to make a LOT of parents and students VERY happy when they have a project requiring something in the shape of what they are studying,

Note that it is going to allow us to pull in an image on our iPads so that we can trace that image!  Even I am going to be able to do that.  Looks both useful and fun.  Can't wait for it to show up.   I purchased an iPad for myself and each of my grandchildren believing that some cool 3D apps where heading for that platform.  So, I'll be especially happy to see it released.

Cubify Sculpt

This one is a horse of a different color.  Again, click on the image to read it clearly,

My intuition says that this is going to be expensive.  But, in reality I have no idea as to how much it's going to cost.  What leads me to believe that it might be more than a few bucks is the image of the haptics device in the picture.  Traditionally, they have NOT been at the low end of the cost scale. 

Having said that, I have to admit that being able to create 3D objects by sculpting as if we were handling clay has been a sort of Holy Grail for me because it is the ONLY way my sculptor daughter is going to be able to generate her sculptures.  It's extremely difficult to create the kind of art she envisions with traditional 3D tools.

So, while I'm not sure what it's going to cost, I definitely want to follow its development.

We have a lot to look forward to this year!  :)

Thursday, January 10, 2013

AppCreate and Cubify API Announced

CES is certainly bringing a flurry of announcements related to the Cubify.Com portal!

Here are two more announcements that can be found on the 3D Systems news pages.

UPDATE:  The Cubify Blog Has Released More Specific Information HERE.


From what I can tell, AppCreate appears to be a service that will let designers create their own designs and then walk through some steps that covert that design into an app that includes some designer specified options.  But, how it's going to work would just be conjecture on my part.  I also don't have a clue if the designs must be created in a parameterized CAD environment or if other 3D formats can be converted.

For now, let's just say that they are going to be providing us with some way that we can turn our ideas and designs into income producing apps.  That's all I need to know to be VERY interested.  We'll just have to wait for more.

Cubify API

AppCreate is clearly aimed at the creative aspects of making objects for sale via the Cubify Portal.  But, it appears that the Cubify API allows designers and app developers access to the business side of the equation... the "fulfillment" services that are delivered by the Cubify portal.  Again, there is little more than letting us know that something is coming/  But, we'll have to wait for it's release to know just what it entails and how it's going to work for us.

What it Signifies to Me

The genius behind eBay and Amazon is that they have been able to make money by helping others make money.  And, that seems to be a foundational philosophy undergirding the entire Cubify Portal design and purpose.

I hope you will let me hop on my soap box for a moment to tell you why I love this idea.  There seems to be a shortsighted view that is prevalent in the RepRap community that everything should be free.

But, how does "Free" help some designer in Haiti feed their family? And, how does "Free" provide the means for a talented designer to keep on designing.  It's totally bankrupt mirage. 

"Free" is a completely counterproductive to the goal of 3D printing being a technology that lifts up those in third world countries.

The beauty of a service like Cubify, where those who like a design can pay a reasonable price and manufacture it at home or order it on the web is that it is entirely egalitarian.  Any creative person in the world can create a design that brings in income from people all over the globe.  The designer doesn't even have to have a 3D printer. This is an extremely powerful force for international good.

In the "free" model, only the consumer benefits... and then only for a limited time, since some potentially great designers must turn their attention elsewhere to make a living.  In the Cubify Portal model BOTH consumer and designer benefit in a symbiotic relationship. The consumer's purchases support the designers ability to continue to design.  And, interestingly, designers in poorer countries actually stand to benefit the most.  A five dollar Cubify sale by a designer in a small village in a 3rd World country may mean a lot more to that designer than it does to those of us in affluent countries.  And, that is why I believe that the "free' model, while touted by some as morally superior is, in fact, morally bankrupt and counterproductive when viewed on a world wide scale.

I have been totally amazed by the diversity of nationalities of those that have contacted my through this blog.  Often, I will have to find someone that can translate the messages better than the online translation services because of dialect differences.  I have friends in Nigeria that are very interested in what 3D printing can do for them, both as designers and consumers. It is truly a transformational technology.  And, the fact that the Cubify portal is being designed to facilitate any and all creative people to have the potential for income, is a wonderful opportunity for people no matter where they live.

I look forward to finding out exactly how these new services work and applaud 3D Systems for choosing the model they have chosen for their service.  And, I hope that many, many of you will benefit by them.

Cubify Capture Announced - Image to 3D

I almost missed this one in a timely fashion because I have been focused on the Cubify Blog.  But, it was released on the 3D Systems news page.  The press release is titled...

While I hate simply cutting an pasting any press release, I have to at least post some snippets of the release because it contains some very intriging information about a process that is similar to something I have used before.  I'll explain after cutting and pasting...
"ROCK HILL, South Carolina –January 9, 2013 – 3D Systems  (NYSE:DDD) announced today that Cubify Capture, a new portal service that allows users to upload photos and videos from their digital, smartphone or tablet camera to its destination and automatically transform the images into 3D models, will be demoed at CES, January 8th – January 11th, 2013, in the Las Vegas Convention Center in the Main Hall, booth 15447."
Ok.  So far, this seems to be a service similar to 123D Catch, which I wrote about earlier this year. The idea is to take a series of pictures, while moving around an object.  Then you upload those pictures to a cloud service and it produces a 3D object from those images.  But, as the press release goes on, it appears that there is one HUGE difference for Cube and other 3D printer owners.
"The company plans to expand the services of its Cubify Capture portal to include a full suite of thematic scan-to-print web and mobile apps. Users can capture on the go and upload pictures or video to where a 3D model is generated automatically and saved in the user’s Cubify account. These 3D models can be used for further modeling, customizing or fusing with other elements and readied for printing at home or through Cubify cloud printing, in monochrome, durable plastic or full color."
Here where I believe the two apps go their separate ways.  While I have managed to eventually get a 123D Catch object to print, the surfaces that it produced were very poor for 3D printing and required a LOT of patching to produce anything close to useful.  It appears that Cubify Capture is designed from the ground up to produce printable 3D objects!  I talk about the laborious process I had to go through to print a 123D Catch object on this blog entry titled "From point & shoot camera to cube printer,"

If you can get past the creepy disembodied plastic head, which I used to refine my portrait lighting skills, you'll see that it took a bit of effort to go from 2D images to 3D print.  Even so, the fact that I could do it at all was amazing to me.  Cubify Capture sounds like icing on the cake!

I can hardly wait to see the results when it's finally up and running for all of us.  And, in this regard it looks like they will be releasing a beta of the initial app in a suite of apps, according to these two paragraphs. 
"The company plans to develop a series of Cubify Capture apps starting with Cubify Capture: Faces, designed specifically to capture facial features and seamlessly turn them into customized 3D printable memorabilia. Cubify Capture: Faces for mobile will also be demoed at CES.
'We’re thrilled to invite users and educators to explore and experiment with the beta release of Cubify Capture, the first true real-world-to-print capture tool,” said Cathy Lewis, CMO, 3D Systems. “We are excited to see what our growing Cubify community will capture and print.' "
You can bet that I will be watching for that beta to be released.  And, the minute I spot it I will let you know.  The more of us that pound on that app, the better it will be.  Being able to simply capture something with a simple camera and then having it be able to be printed out on our own Cube's or in color on Cubify's Cloud printers is an awesomely useful idea!

Welcome Improvements in the Cubify Site

It will have been one year ago, the first week of February, that I trekked from Kensington, Maryland to Rock Hill, South Carolina to see the Cube for myself.  By that time, I'd had a chance to try out the Cubify web site and had a lot of questions regarding the direction in which they appeared to be going.

In particular, I know that most, if not all, of 3D Systems core expertise was in business-to-business marketing.  My fear was that they, like many companies with that limited core expertise, were going to find it tough going in the consumer marketplace.  And, from what I initially saw on the Cubify site at that time, that fear seemed to be well founded.  Frankly, while I came away from those meetings with a real excitement about the Cube, I can't say I had the same enthusiasm for the Cubify web site.

Months went by before I began to see that they WERE "getting it".  And, now, just one year after they revealed, I am fully convinced that 3D Systems IS one of those rare business-to-business companies that CAN and HAS successfully learned how to market to home users.

The change, I believe, when I listen to members of the Cubify team talk, and see their new product offerings, is that they have grown from equating 'consumer' marketing with 'mass' marketing, to evolving to see that the consumer is not some big people aggregate; but, is made up of unique individuals that respond to products and services with individual aspirations, skills and needs.

I was thrilled when 3D Systems purchased MyRobotNation as part of the Cubify family.  To me, that was a stroke of genious.  My grandchildren and I had already enjoyed the My Robot Nation experience well before the news that they had been acquired.  If there was ever a company that "got it" when it comes to offering the consumer a unique and pleasant buying experience, it was My Robot Nation.  For 3D Systems to see that potential as part of their own transformation into the consumer marketplace was brilliant.   And, connected or not, the transformation of the Cubify web site and the Cubify experience has seemed to blossom from that point forward.

What brought all this to my mind is that yesterday 3D Systems and announced that they were teaming up with to allow users to "join the Star Trek crew" with a customized figurine having their own face on it.  Very cool!  Here is the link to the blog entry.

What struck me, when I saw this, was that in just one year 3D Systems and the Cubify team have covered a LOT of ground and made tremendous strides in delivering appealing content as well as hardware to each of us as individuals.  They are marketing to our uniqueness and that is a winning formula.

Star Trek was not one of my favorite television programs when it came on in 1966.  In fact, personally, I never had much interest in it.  But, from the first, I have been fascinated by the loyalty and passion of those that embraced it.  I was teaching in 1969 and I vividly recall one 3rd grader that would run around the school yard with a TV controller pretending it was a phaser!  He tried his best to make his pesky science teacher disappear into molecular mist.  LOL!

Fortunately, TV controllers make for very poor phasers.  I didn't disappear and we still keep in touch.  :)

The point is that there was something about the Star Trek consumer experience that touched individuals in a such a powerful way that close to 50 years later the brand is still young and fresh!   That is nothing less than magic!  And, something tells me that is showing signs that they have found some of that same wonderful magic.

And... I expect a whole lot more to come! 

Guest Post - How The Cube Has Changed My Daily Workflow

Editor's Note:  I met Chris Crowley because he and his Cube had a rocky first  meeting.  His Cube had been damaged in shipment and he asked for some  advice.   I quickly became an admirer of his analytical skills and the  more we interacted the more I wanted others to hear from him.  Obviously, those initial problems were resolved and, as you can see,  Chris is clearly a Cube fan!

So, here is Chris' first guest post.  And, he is right.  You will be hearing from him in the future and I hope you will be hearing from him many times.

Hi Everyone -

I’m Chris Crowley, and I’ll be your guest blogger for today! I own Table Mountain Innovation, Inc.... a Mechanical Engineering consultancy specializing in medical equipment design.

Tom Meeks and I met through “Cube” activities, and Tom asked me to describe how the Cube has changed my daily workflow.

“Wow” is the best description!

All of my clients are extremely impressed by the fact that they get “free access” to a 3D printer when they hire me for mechanical engineering. You see... I don’t charge any additional fees to 3D print parts from my Cube. I am not acting as a “service bureau” for my clients. Just as I might make a prototype with a rough cardboard cutout, with my milling machine, or with my silicone casting process.... I can now simply print prototype designs on my Cube and test them with my clients.

I offer this service because the material cost is so low. Of course, I charge professional hourly fees for the concept, design, and CAD work, but now the printing comes “free”.

The results are simple.... my product designs are better. My design cycle is much shorter. The costs to the client are lower. We do more prototyping in less time.

I’ve used Cube parts in FDA “Final Verification” tests. I’ve used Cube parts as a 3D “master” to make a soft silicone mold, and then cast several silicone or rubber prototype parts from that tool. I’ve used Cube parts to repair existing machinery. The ABS is MUCH stronger than the epoxy-based stereolith parts that people sometimes purchase - this is critical for durability testing. The possibilities are endless.

The Cube has been great throughout. Perfect? No. There were some early technical issues quickly solved by 3D Systems’ top notch Customer Service. The surface finish isn’t as good as the $50K Objet Eden machine at my usual service bureau. I wish the accuracy was higher. I have some tricky geometry-related shrink issues. But... SO WHAT?!

In-house 3D printing capability has literally changed my business. I am 100% certain that the Cube has paid for itself in repeat customers, just in the last few months.

Here are some great examples:

Example #1: Replacement Spindle for Vinyl Printer

A client needed a “thumb-sized” spindle to replace a worn part on a very expensive production vinyl printer. The OEM spindle was so worn that it would occasionally DROP a 100+ pound spool of vinyl on the floor during a print job. They wrapped it in masking tape and rubber cement. When that didn’t work, the client used an old piece of sprinkler pipe, which caused the spool to jam. HP wants $900 for this part - it is only purchasable with a larger assembly. I reverse engineered the spindle and printed 3 replacements all in an afternoon. Client VERY happy!

Example #1a: Vinyl Printer Needing Replacement Part

Example #1b: Part Location

Example #1c: Cube Printed Part next to old

Example #1d: Cube Printed Part in Place

Example #1e: Old Part for Comparison

Example #1f: New Cube Part for Comparison

Example #2: Using a Cube Printed Part to Create a Mold

In this case, a Cube printed part was used as the "positive" for a wrist strap for a medical device being prepared for silicone molding. I’m pouring the second half of the mold, and the black “master” part is soaked in oily mold release. The strap was printed in the Cube, and the resulting molded parts will be “rubber” versus the rigid Cube ABS.

Example 2: Using a Cube Printed Part to Create Mold

Example #3: Snap-Fit Speaker Mount

I designed a production test fixture for a client, but they needed a quick solution to hold a speaker that wasn’t part of the original design. I quickly printed a snap-fit speaker mount, and we were back in business that afternoon. You can see the Cube “lime green” part near the lime green arrow. :-)

Example 3: Snap Fit Speaker Mount

Example #4:  A Clip to Hold Surgical Dressing

well... I’m not at liberty to disclose just yet. It is “clip” to hold a surgical dressing to the body in a certain fashion. As you know, human skin a full of sensitive nerves and tiny changes in the clip design really affect the comfort. The client and I have been working on many different designs... sometimes we print 2-3 per day. It is a magic and wonderful machine that makes this a design and prototyping process possible.

That’s all for now! I’m sure Tom will have me back sometime, and I’m sure that I’ll have more photographs for you!

Thanks for listening. If you want to find out more about me and my company:

Protomold Case Studies