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.


  1. Great idea...

    Once I have my printer, I can help to test prints.

    I repair laboratory equipment, so I have a great source of different microscopes.

    will be keeping an eye out for an update...

  2. Thanks, Armando!

    I'm printing out one of my more radical ideas as I write this. And, from what I can see, my claims that failure is part of the creative process is probably going to come in real handy! LOL!

  3. Thanks for this posting!
    Nice & very informative blog.
    Microscope systems Scotland offers Student Microscopes

  4. Tom: aaahhh - we think alike! One of my first projects here was an adapter for an Olympus PME-3 metallograph so that a 1.25" astrophotography camera would fit to the optical port. It replaced an old low resolution TV camera. The result was stunning to say the least, not just cheap!

  5. We DO think alike! Where there is a will, there is a way! )

    Hmmm... if we REALLY think alike, I'm wondering if the guy that originally owned that camera is still looking for it! LOL!