Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Another Look at the Cube 3

One of the Youth ChalleNGe sites that YouthQuest Foundation serves with our 3D ThinkLink Initiative is in South Carolina.  Even though we teach 3D design and printing through live video feeds, we like to include at least one site visit for each cadet class so that we have a personal connection with the cadets.

Last week on my way to visit the South Carolina Youth ChalleNGe Academy, I had the opportunity to stop by the headquarters for 3D Systems for a brief visit with the Cubify product manager to talk about the significant improvements in the next generation Cube printer.

So far, I have had two opportunities to see the Cube3 in action.  The first was in New York.  And, the second was during this short meeting.  As you can imagine, the design team is extremely busy.  So, I was very happy that the product manager carved out a few minutes so that I could better understand the import of the new design changes coming in the Cube3.

All of the printers that I've see so far have been design prototypes.  But, even in this stage of development my opinion that the Cube3 is going to be a true game changer is well-founded.  I had a better opportunity to examine and discuss the new cartridge/nozzle system for the Cube3.  Had there been no other improvements over the previous designs, this one, alone, would have merited the game-changer claim.

The thinking that went into the design to make it almost as easy as plugging in earphones into an iPhone is remarkable.  In the prototype, at least, the cartridges are transparent enough to be able to see how much filament remains.  I hope this is true of the release versions.  It's very helpful.

I reported that the Cube3's that I saw in New York seemed more quiet than some of my 1st and 2nd Gen Cubes.  The goal of making them even more quiet was confirmed on this trip.  They are working hard on that aspect of the user experience.   This will make it easier to use in classrooms.  And, education is a key part of the strategy for 3D Systems.  They even have a new web site dedicated to educational 3D design and printing.

But, the most significant impression with which I came away from this meeting was the quality of the prints that I was not only able to see; but, hold in my hands and FEEL the new level of smoothness.  I didn't even need my trusty microscopes to know that we are in for some significantly finer results from the Cube3.

I don't know if one of the pieces was simply an experiment or if the capability will be realized in the production machines,  But, I was shown a 70 micron layer piece produced on a prototype Cube3 that was simply astonishingly smooth and detailed.  Obviously, it will take longer to print such a piece; but, I know for sure that there are objects that will be important enough for me to not mind the extra print times if I can get that kind of smoothness from a print.

 We are DEFINITELY going to enjoy the Cube 3!

By the way, I grew up in the south and find that, like so-called "Philly Cheesesteaks" that aren't, there is are a lot of things called "Southern Cooking" that isn't.  But, on the way to the SC Challenge Academy I was fortunate enough to find the REAL DEAL.  If you ever find yourself on I-20, treat yourself by getting off on Exit 82 (Elgin) to find Bert's Southern Cooking.

I KNOW fried chicken.  But, I have never had better than Bert's.  I kept going back to try different things while I had the chance and I was never once disappointed.  I'm just glad that my wife wasn't along to see my over-indulgence!!  I loved the place... as you can tell by my mentioning it here.  I want the best for my readers and family run Bert's Southern Cooking is the best.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Back from Inside 3D Printing - NY - Cube 3 is Dynamite!

I'm back from the "Inside 3D Printing" conference in NY, where I saw, for the first time, the Cube 3.

In teaching 3D design and printing to the cadets in my classes, one of the constant themes is iterative improvement.  Iterative improvement cannot usually be measured along a straight line.  Some steps along the improvement continuum will be small and others huge leaps.

Immediately, when I saw my first Cube version 1, I recognized that it was a huge leap forward over previous hobbyist, kit 3D printers   It was  a game changer in that it opened the door to 3D printing to a much wider group of consumers.

The Cube 2, offered immediate improvements over the Cube 1 in several key areas.  We could now use PLA as well as ABS.  It was more accurate.  And, most importantly to me, 3D Systems, through software and firmware updates, continually made incremental iterative improvements in the Cube 2 performance.

Now comes the Cube 3, which I saw for the first time last week.

It is a huge leap forward in key ways that make it, for me, a true game changer. 

Buzzwords always find their way into technological marketing.  "Democratization of 3D printing" could simply be an empty slogan or it could mean something on a big scale.  The Cube 3 is solid evidence that 3D Systems is serious about democratizing the 3D experience by addressing the impediments that would keep the 3D printing experience out of the hands of the non-tinkerer.

The design of the Cube 3 tells me that the designers have not only looked at what THEY would like to see incorporated into the design... such as multiple colors.  But, they have also carefully listened to users' issues and sat about to REMOVE those issues for Cube 3 owners.

There may be more REMOVALS of issues that I will find once I actually have a Cube 3 to test.  But, for now, I have identified three.


ALL 3D extrusion printers have the issue of the occasional head clog for a variety of reasons.  That is true for the simplest 3Doodler to the largest and most robust industrial grade 3D printers.  But, what has been removed by the Cube 3 is the frustration of bringing down the entire printer because the print head is clogged.

As far as I know, the Cube 3 is the first and only 3D printer with the heating tip built into the cartridge.  I have no idea if the heating tip can get clogged.  But, if it does, all we have to do is replace the cartridge and the printer is back up and running!  That is an enormous improvement in the 3D printer user experience.


In my experience, both personal and in helping others, the gap between the print table and the print head is the single biggest contributor to clogging issues.  It's also a big contributor to print failures that present themselves as glue failures, etc.  A proper gap is critical.

It is my understanding that the Cube 3 is able to set the proper gap.automatically.  This should reduce the possibility of print failures and clogs to a significant extent.


I spent a long time developing a tool to help ensure that the print tables my Cube 1 and Cube 2 printers were properly level.  The tolerances are tight.  And, frankly, the placement of the screws used to set the print table leveling is a bit awkward.  But, I finally came up with a tool that has helped me perform the process with as little effort as possible.

But, as nicely as my new tool works, I am overjoyed to learn that I will probably not have to use it, or anything like it, in the future.  The Cube 3 is self-leveling within certain tolerances.  This means that you MAY have to manually reset the baseline leveling if you drop the printer.  But, short of that, it should be able to automatically level the print table.

What These REMOVALS Mean

In concert, these three "Removals" smooth out the 3D printing experience.  A smoother experience means fewer surprises and/or frustrations.  And, that translates into the ability to focus more on results than the process.  It brings us closer to the "appliance" goal for technology where we make toast without thinking all that much about the toaster.

Ultimately, I don't want to have to be focused on my 3D printer.  I want to focus on my designs and count on my 3D printers to produce them with as little fuss possible.  As already asserted, the Cube 3 appears to be a true game changer in this regard.  

Saturday, April 5, 2014

An Excellent Cart for the Cube on the Road

Because I have mentioned how well the Cube 3D printers travel, people have asked what carts I use.  I had purchased mine from Staples and they no longer carried them.  And, unfortunately, I could not remember the brand name.

I've finally found it!

It's the Smart Cart series from dBest

Staples had carried two sizes.. the Smart Cart and the Bigger Smart Cart.  I prefer the Bigger Smart Cart; but, both work.  The large version allows you to carry extra cartridges.  Both are relatively inexpensive and priceless if you need to carry your Cube with you.

I also found an Amazon source for what I believe is the smaller of the two models.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Heading to Inside 3D Printing - New York

As I write this, I am jostling my way to New York, on the Amtrak Vermonter, for the Inside 3D Printing conference where I will be taking part in a panel discussion about 3D printing and education.

But, today I hope to have my first real look at the new Cube 3 printer and all of the new printers announced a few months ago at CES.  As mentioned previously, this blog will be expanded to include all of 3D System's 3D printers in the under $10K category.

If all goes well, I should be able to post some informative videos by the end of the week.

In the meantime, if you happen to be in New York and visiting the show, please look me up.  While I do not work for 3D Systems, I should be around their booth for extended periods of time since I want to learn all I can about the new products.

More later....