Thursday, November 28, 2013

Excellent Review of the Sense 3D Scanner

Engadget has posted an excellent and bery thorough review of the Sense 3D Scanner from 3D Systems. 

Brian Heater covers all the bases with a great writing style.

3D Systems Sense review: a 3D scanner for the masses (almost)

I really appreciate the thoroughness of the review.   But, in reading through the replies to the review, it is obvious that many people don't know how to put price/performance into the proper perspective.  This isn't isn't a +10K device!  It's a low cost consumer device that works well for its intended applications.

Many also have trouble realizing that one needs to learn their tools before making a definitive value judgement.  Perhaps I had an easier time of it because of my experience with using 2D photo to 3D applications in which some of the same skills are required.  But, even so, I can already sense... no pun intended... that like any new technology, there is more for me to learn if I am to get the most out of the Sense 3D scanner.  And, I'm willing to put in the time and effort to learn it.

Perhaps if I intended to use the Sense scanner for creating highly textured objects for game play, I might not be as excited as I am about it.  But, I'm not.  I intend to create and print, on a Cube 3D printer, unique gifts of lasting value of people and for the people that care about them.  And, that is priceless.

Just ask the cadets we've scanned so far.  :)

Cube Print Table Tool - Checks and Helps Level the Cube Print Table

I have spent much of my free time in the last three or four months trying to come up with a tool that would help Cube owners check the level status of their print table and make the leveling process a lot easier and more accurate.  There have been a lot of ideas and failed attempts along the way.

But, the effort has finally born fruit in the form of a tool that Cube owners can print from an STL file on the Cubify Store site.  I will be putting up the files as soon as I have a video completed that demonstrates how to assemble it and use it.

It works by hanging a bracket off of the print head cover.  The bracket positions a pivoting pointer near the center of the print jet.  The pivoting point rides along the print table and indicates the relative difference from the print jet at the four corners of the leveling process.

Cube Leveling Tool - Split view

Here is a split view of the componenets of the system...

Cube Leveling Tool - Split View

The silver component is the primary bracket that attaches to the print head cover.  The cyan component is the pivoting pointer that actually shows the relative offset of all the four corners of the print table.  And, the magenta component in the above image is the clip that securely holds the primary bracket in place.

Cube Leveling Tool - 3D View

Cube Leveling Tool - 3D View

The best way to see how the components work together is by seeing them in this 3D view from Moment of Inspiration.  As can be seen, there are raised rails inside the primary bracket that fit into the first and last slots of the print head cover.  This precisely aligns the tool so that the bracket has no play as the tools is being used.  To lock the bracket securely into place, a clip, shown in magenta is slide down over the head cover and bracket and is seated by ears on the bracket to make sure that it is in the proper, most secure place.  A a rail on the clip locks it into place in one of the slots on the head cover.

The bracket includes a shaft for mounting the pivoting pointer and also includes a pointed extension with which to gauge the movement of the pivoting pointer. 

Cube Leveling Tool -Front view

The pointed extension is best seen in the front view.  It is purposely designed a bit long to accommodate differences in how the pivot pointer might be attached.  Simply clip off the end for a flush match.  When starting the leveling process, the top of the pivot pointer is lined up with the top of the extension by raising and lowering the print table giving us a basleine of comparison for the other 3 corners.

Cube Leveling Tool - 3D View

Cube Leveling Tool - Left view

The STL files include two different pivot pointers.  One is mounted directly using a 4mm bolt.  The other permits the use of 3x4x10mm or 4x4x10mm bearings for much smoother action.  The bearings are inexpensive fishing reel bearing that can be purchased on the internet.  The source I use is VBX Bearing and I buy 10 at a time for under $20.     While either 3mm or 4mm inside diameter will work, it is easier to find the 4mm nuts, bolts and washer in local hardware stores.  This image portrays the bold-only version.

Cube Leveling Tool - Left View

You will notice in the above image that the sliding portion of the pivot tool has a peculiar shape. There are two special features of this shape.  The first is that it is elongated so that it will not fold under as it is moved forward across the print table.  The second is that the elongated portion is lightly raised so that it will not interfere with the actual measurement when the movement stops.

NOTE:  Multiple coats of fingernail polish applied to the bottom contact of the pivot tool go a long way to making the movement silky smooth.  I have found that Sally Hanson Triple Shine Top Coat, that can be found at Target, works very, very well.

You will notice that there is about a 5 to one ratio between the bolt hole to the pivot point contact and the bolt hole to the end of the pivot point.  It is this difference that makes it so easy to level the print table more accurately.  Each .25mm difference translates to about 1.25mm swing at the end of the pointer.  And. 1.25mm is a LOT easier to see than .25mm.

A Note About the Price

I try to keep most of the things I have uploaded to the Cubify Store at the minimum allowable cost.  But, this time I will list the tool at $10.  The price reflects the extension hours of design and testing that went into the design along with the realization that it is going to be an enormous time saver for Cube owners.  Moreover, I want to be able to design other useful things to make life easier for Cube and Sense owners.  Having the funds to do so is very helpful. 

I also want to be able to design a version that is specifically designed for printing on the SLA printers and I expect revisions to be a bit on the expensive side.    So, I hope you understand why the cost is being set higher than my normal price goals..

Quick & Dirty Demo Video

I plan to create a much better video that not only covers the information in this one; but, how to go through the entire leveling process using the tool.  I not only use it to level the print bed.  I sue it to check the level of the print bed after carrying it around, etc.  As a result, I am getting much better adhesion. 

Sorry for the poor sound.  I shot this in the outside studio just using the camera's microphone and the sound of the printer cut the autolevel back.


Be sure that you start the leveling process and then lower the table BEFORE attaching the tool.

As soon as I have uploaded the STL files and/or created the new video I will update the status. 

Vicious Turkeys, LBJ and 3D Scans of Cadets - Thanksgivings to Remember

Perennial holidays have a way of creating and recalling memories of those same holidays from the past.

That is especially true for THIS Thanskgiving,

Thanksgiving 1948 and the Surly Turkeys

My first Thanksgiving memory is one that makes eating turkey particularly satisfying.  My relish at the thought of eating turkey began at the age of 4.  We lived in what was then a rural area and one of the ways the local Burke volunteer fire department raised funds was to sponsor a turkey shoot.  My father happened to win two turkeys at that event.

These weren't frozen turkeys.  These were live turkeys.  And, not the domestic variety either.  They were surly wild turkeys common in the surrounding woods.  What set them apart of your average surly wild turkey was their size.  These things were HUGE Toms!

Unbeknown to me, he decided to house the turkeys in the outhouse over night.  Early the next morning, I had to go and as soon as I opened the door I got a rude shock.  The turkeys bolted for the door of the outhouse strait at me!  I slammed the door shut, only to trap one in the door by the neck with his head doing everything possible to destroy me.

Eventually,  my father heard my screams and came to my rescue.  But, by then I no longer needed to go.  To this day, I remember the sweet feelings of revenge when that bird showed up at the table on a platter!  And, it stays with me each and every Thanksgiving when a bird is set before me.

I think that must show that I might have a bit of a tendency to hold a grudge.

Thanksgiving 1963 and LBJ

I was working in Giant Food #14, a very small grocery store in 1963 when the assassination of John Kennedy was announced.  The store was in the upscale neighborhood of Spring Valley in Washington, DC., the home of Lyndon B. Johnson.  In those days vice-presidents remained in their personal homes.  Mostly we dealt with the cook for the Johnsons.  But, sometimes LBJ, himself, would stop in. If memory serves me correctly, he mostly came in to pick up some cigars.

That was a chaotic time for the Johnson family and it wasn't clear, until the last minute, where they would eat their Thanksgiving dinner.  They finally decided to eat Thanksgiving in their personal home, perhaps in deference to Jackie Kennedy.  But, no one had thought to purchase anything for the meal!  The gave our store an emergency call.

Dick Cunningham was the manager of Store #14.  The minute he learned the situation, he sprung into action.   Since he commuted by bus and had a car, he enlisted me into quickly gathering up anything and everything that might be remotely considered a part of a Thanksgiving meal.  Being one of the oldest and smallest stores in the Giant Food chain, we didn't have a turkey fitting for a president.  So, Charlie McCort, the manager of a nearby store came to the rescue with a suitably large bird.  And, we raced over to the new president's personal home.

On arrival, the thing that strikes me now is that I don't recall seeing a single security guard.  But, what struck me then was the ENORMOUS number of empty liquor bottles discarded in a number of what I thought were fairly large oil drums!  I don't know if it was LBJ, himself.; but, SOMEBODY was putting away a LOT of booze around that place!!

Perhaps because this is the 50th year since that event, it is the first time I've written about it. In the past, I always attributed the need for our help simply to the chaos around that horrific event.  But, as I wrote this, it dawned on me, for the first time, that it was probably as much as an act of kindness to Jackie Kennedy and her children, giving them a little more time and space.  I don't know; but, it would be interesting to know.

Thanksgiving 1966 and Mammouth Cave

The Vietnam War was in full swing.  I joined the Army Reserve and was called for active duty training at Fort Knox Kentucky in September of 1966.  So, I found myself, for the first time, away from from family as Thanksgiving rolled around.  I decided to visit Mammoth Cave.  It was there, as I stared at my turkey and dressing dinner, that it truly struck me that Thanksgiving is not just about the turkey and the food.  It truly was about family.

I don't think I have ever felt more lonely than on that day.

Thanksgiving 2013 and Cadets

This Thanksgiving I am thankful that I was able to not only create NEW Thanksgiving memories for myself'; but, for the cadets that I teach and their families.  That is because the Sense 3D scanner arrived just before the Cadets headed home for the holidays.  While we were only able to scan a few before they left, every one of them knows that someone they love is going to get a very special gift this year... a 3D printed bust of the cadet.  We'll finish the scanning when they get back and print their busts before they graduate in December.

I wish you could have been there to see the reactions of the cadets when they saw the scanner in action.  More than one said they knew EXACTLY who would be getting their 3D print.  Yes, we focus on core STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) concepts using 3D printing in the class.  But, there is more than enough time to spend a little bit of it to deal with building relationships, too.  Building relationships is just as much a key for their success as any subject matter.

Thus, this Thanksgiving is going to be cemented in my memory for the rest of my life as one I will be forever thankful.
Thank you Sense, Sculpt and Cube teams!

Saturday, November 23, 2013

A Glue to use in an emergency...

The longer I work with the 2nd Gen Cube, the more I learn about glue application for the most effectiveness.  But, I often wonder what we would or could do should we run out of Cube Stick at a critical printing moment.

Recently, a 3D printer owner contacted me and in their email they mentioned using Elmers Disappearing Purple School Glue Stick with his printer... which also has a glass bed.  So, I decided to see how well it might work.

Some observations...

First, it works.  

It goes on purple and as it dries it disappears.  In 8 runs there was one failure that I'm sure had to do with low humidity.  It is FAR more sensitive to dry air than the Cube Stick.   You can tell this by how fast it disappears.

Second, it's probably more expensive 

While it would be great in a pinch,  I'm not sure that it's the least expensive or most effective option. It seems to require a good bit more glue to remain active for the full length of time required to start a print job.  This might not be the case in a high humidity area; but, in my area it's definitely a factor.

Third, it washes off easily and cleanly

I must be easily amused because I got a kick out of the fact that if the Elmers is used and then the print table is run under a faucet, it turns purple again!  This makes it easy to see that all of it has been removed from the print table.

Fourth, parts can still be hard to remove

While there is a different feel to sliding a palette knife under a part, the basic function of removing a part remains unchanged.  If the glue has worked well, and there is no warping, some parts can be tough to remove. 

My conclusion is that I am happy to have the option of using a second source of glue.  But, there is no compelling reason, other than local availability, to making Elmer's glue stick the primary glue to use with the Cube.  Still, it's good to know that we have an option in an emergency.

New Update to Cubify Sculpt

There is an update to Cubify Sculpt that includes new "Mashup" capabilities and a direct interface to the Sense 3D Scanner.

With so much happening at one time, I'm a little behind checking out all the changes. But, there are two things I need to point out immediately.  First, the icons have been completely changed to a solid grey.  I was concerned that something was wrong since normally a solid grey indicates "disabled".  I'm not sure I'm crazy about this change.  But, I will follow up to find out why this was altered. 

But, for now, just remember that this is the intended interface.  So, nothing is wrong when you open it up.

The other thing to point out is that some very nice new functionality has been added.  The top section of the icon menu is called "Construct" and the icon to the right at the top brings us to an entirely new "Mashup" functionality that allows us to bring in not only the existing basic shapes; but, new shapes like an egg and torus.   I have not, as yet, figured out the "Magnetize" function.  But, will ask as soon as I can.

As soon as I feel that I'm up to speed on the new version of Sculpt, I will create a new overview video.  And, in particular, I want to explore the Sculpt/Sense interface.  It looks VERY cool.

IMPORT Changes

In addition to STL, OBJ, PLY and CLY file types, we can now import CLC (?) and ZPR (Z Corporation ZPrint CAD format) file types.

It will be interesting to find out where these new file types take us.

More later.

Exploring the Sense 3D Scanner

A lot of people think I work for 3D Systems.  Not only do I NOT work for 3D Systems, I am forever surprised to find that I'm late coming to the party when they release something new.

This was the case of the Sense 3D Scanner.

I had not idea they were even contemplating a low cost 3D scanner... especially one that retails at $399.00!  My first clue came from an email sent to me by a friend that pointed to an article on the web announcing it.  That article, in turn, pointed to the page for the Sense.

I was floored!!!  Talk about being out of the loop!  LOL!

But, I quickly made sure that I had one in house to test.  It arrived late last week and I quickly ran through a few tests.

Before I talk about my tests, I have to put into context my expectations.  First, I cannot afford a $30,000 3D scanner.  So, I have no idea how the Sense stacks up to the big kid toys.  The only "scanning" with which I have any experience is using 2D to 3D applications like 123D Capture.   I blogged about this technology in 2012.

My benchmark for a low-cost 3D scanner is that it has to be (1) easier than 2D to 3D techniques and (2) has to produce equal or better results.  If it meets those two goals it will be very useful to me.

My First Scan

Obviously, when one takes delivery of a 3D scanner, one has to find a suitable target to scan.  I found mine in a character from Monster's Inc.  I didn't go around the object a full 360 degrees because I simply wanted to see if it got ANYTHING.

I also didn't fully understand the options as I went through the workflow.  So, I inadvertently removed some detail.  I was amazed at how easy the process was and how well it came into Sculpt.

I wenr on to scan a styling manikin head that I'd previously used in 2D to 3D tests.  Here is the result as seen in Sculpt.  Because I wanted to print this without supports, I added a bottom and back to create a bookend affect.  The object then prints laying on it's back.  It's printing as I write this.  At the size that I am printing it will take 10 hours.  I'll take a photo when it's done and add it to the bottom of this post.

When compared to the process for 2D to 3D, this was infinitely easier.  And, in terms of being able to handle things like hair, it was amazingly more effective.  Here is a short video of a complete head scan.

Now, don't get me wrong.  Some things work and others do not... like very small white sculptures.  And, to be able to scan reliably every time, is going to take some practice.  But, the feedback that we get as we scan is very helpful and the software's capabilities to create a solid object from a partial scan are nothing short of miraculous.

Here is a short video that demonstrates the basic workflow from scanning to saving an STL file.

The software developers have done a wonderful job of making an intuitive interface that provides excellent feedback during the entire process.  The is made it easy to capture and edit something the first time it was used.  But, reliable results across a wide range of subjects is going to take a bit of experience.  In the little time that I've had it, I have been able to learn as much from the failures as I have from the successes.  All white objects, for instance, might require some special lighting to increase shadows, etc.

In all, I probably only have 2 hours of experimentation into using the Sense 3D scanner.  But, initial observations are mixed when it comes to using a tripod mounted scanner pointed at an object on a turntable.  But, that might be because I have a manual turntable and my hands are in the field of view.  I've also learned that it is best to put the object in an open area when scanning via a turntable.  Otherwise, close fixed objects seem to confuse the scanner.  Rest assured, I will put a LOT of time into coming up with the most effective strategies for using the SENSE.  It's a fantastic device at a fantastic price!

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Leveling Print Table & Non-Magnetic Tools

One of the reasons why we've not addressed the issue of checking the levelness of the print table is that leveling the print table poses some interesting challenges.  Among these has to be the fact that most wrenches that we could use, including the very convenient one that comes with the Cube 3D printer can be yanked from our hands by the strong magnet holding the print table.

The other challenge, of course, is simply being able to accurately determine if we have, in fact, leveled the table.  It's extremely difficult to see a less than .25mm offset from corner to corner on the print table that is the optimal specification.

Since the very first day that I took delivery of the Cube, I have tried to come up with something that would help me in this task.  Finding the solution took being called crazy by my wife because it came in the middle of the night and I could not help but get up, go to the computer and start designing at 3:00am!

I will be posting an STL on the Cubify store at a cost of $5.  While you will not have to spend more than that to use the tool to help you to check and/or align your Cube's print table, there are some accessories that will help make the job a bit easier.  One addition will make the tool more accurate and the other will make the process of adjusting the nuts that position the table a lot easier.

Non-Magnetic Wrenches

The benefit of a wrench that is not affected by magnetism is that it won't be pulled into the mounting magnet.

A search on the internet has revealed that while non-magnetic wrenches are expensive, they do exist.  The nuts on the Cube are adjusted with a 7mm wrench.  It would be helpful if the wrench weren't very long, as normal length wrenches don't clear the frame of the Cube and that means having to reset the wrench a lot.  Here are some that I found.

Zoro Tools sells an open end 6mm/7mm bronze/aluminum alloy wrench that is 3-15/16" long.  It's $28.00.

Global Industrial sells a 7mm non-sparking wrench that is 5" long for 19.0

It may be that the world of Hobby R/C racing provides us with the best options.  I found, for instance, thatGolden Horizon Hobby distributes a set of aluminum metric wrenches that look like fit our needs perfectly.  Unfortunately, they are either brand new or backordered.  Golden Horizons GHH01536

I have entered my email so that when they are available they should send a notice.

Other hobby options might what is called a turnbuckle wrench.  Losi makes a 7mm turnbuckle wrench that can be found on eBay and several hobby sites.  Here is a sample site.

I have no idea if a "turnbuckle" wrench will hold up to the job of tightening and loosening the Cue's table adjustment screws.  But, there are several hobby stores in the area and I'll be on the lookout to find one this weekend.

Upcoming Level Gauge Upload

There are two versions of the level gauge I now use to align and level my print beds with excellent ease and accuracy.  One uses a bearing and the other does not.  The same STL file prints both.  The bearing version is designed to take inexpensive "fishing reel" reel bearings in two optional sizes to accommodate either 3mm or 4mm screws.  I have tested the 3mm bearing; but, the 4mm bearings have been shipped but have not arrived as yet.  These bearings can be purchased for as little as 10 for $19.95.  The non-bearing version works.  But, the bearing version is a dream to use.  So, until I am sure that both 3mm and 4mm screws work with their respective bearings, I prefer to wait.  This should be only a day or two at most.

I think you will love how well it works.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Holes Revisted! Amazing Improvements in Both Horizontal and Vertical Hole Printing

When I first started printing with a 3D printer, just after the 1st Gen Cube was announced, I discovered that I couldn't really achieve a clean hole in a vertical wall.  A little experimentation showed me that I needed to print a hexagon or a pentagon (in the right orientation) to simulate a hole.

That has all been changed with the latest Cubify Client software upgrade!  There can be just the tiniest flattening at the top of larger holes.  But, it is miniscule and inconsequential to the point where designing a hole in a vertical wall, once something I cautioned against, is now unleashing some new design possibilities.


Frankly, I attribute the remarkable improvements in my recent Cube prints to two things... commitment and resources. 

From the very first I know, without a shadow of a doubt that 3D Systems was committed to making the Cube and subsequent 3D printers the best that they could be for the cost of the printer.  Obviously, a Cube is never going to deliver the quality of an SLA 3D print.  But, for the technology that it uses, it has continued to improve with each software and firmware update. 

And, that is where the resources come into play.  One of the big reason why I am no longer interested in 3D printer kits is that once built, there are few resources from the kit packagers for major improvements.  Software takes expertise, money and man hours.  Buying a 3D printer from a company that has both commitment and resources brings the kinds of results all Cube owners will be seeing as they take advantage of the new updates.

The print my Cube is delivering even as I write this, validates Staple's decision to select the Cube as their first foray into personal 3D printing.  These recent major improvements in the Cube's ability to deliver quality prints demonstrate, at least to me, that, like Staples, I also made the right choice in selecting a printer to not only use; but, suggest to others to use.  I had faith that 3D Systems would continue to do everything they could to make steady improvements in the printer I'd chosen.  And, they've continued to deliver.

It's one thing to have the resources to sell a lot of printers and quite another to have the commitment and resources to continue to make those printers even better.  My heroes at 3D Systems are the engineers and product managers that continue to make me a VERY happy Cube user.  :)

Monday, November 4, 2013

Firmware & Cubify Client Updates Noticeably Improve Print

Latest firmware at the time of this writing is V2.08.

The combination of 2nd Gen Cube's firmware update V2.08 and the latest Cubify Client update offer what appears to me to be remarkably improved print quality.

While I do not know all the improvements that have been implemented, I do believe that I see much smoother curved surfaces.  There are other LCD user interface changes as well. 

I STRONGLY suggest that all 2nd Gen Cube users take the time to apply both updates.

It is my understanding that CubeX owners will benefit by the most recent updates for the CubeX firmware and Client software.  I don't have a CubeX, so I can't verify that in person.  But, if the improvements are as nice as those I'm seeing on the Cube, then it's worth checking it out.

Kudos to 3D Systems for keeping on top of improvements as well as they have.  The 2nd Gen Cube that I have today is performing even better than when it was taken out of the box and that is a testament to 3D System's strong commitment to it's owner base.

While I'm praising 3D Systems, let me also give them credit for the improvements in the readability of the LCD screen itself.  I have 2 2nd Gen Cubes and the most recent one is much easier to see in bright light situations.  It's nice to see that 3D Systems is also listening to buyers and willing to make incremental hardware changes within the model line from time to time.  Nice.