Tuesday, October 28, 2014

The Cube3 Manual is EXCELLENT!

A Biz-to-Biz Company Masters Consumer Marketing

When I was first introduced to the 1st generation Cube, I have to be honest in saying that while I loved the printer, I was a bit skeptical that a company whose history had always been Business-to-Business would fully understand the consumer marketplace.

Over time, that skepticism has been whittled away as I not only saw improvement in the products, to make them more consumer friendly; but, also saw their commitment to building an infrastructure that truly served their buyers.

But, ALL skepticism is gone with the release of the Cube3.  

From bottom to top this is a product designed to eliminate all obstacles for people who have little or no experience with a 3D printer.  And, that not only describes the printer, itself; but, the manual that comes with the printer.  If anyone ever had any doubts about 3D System understanding the consumer marketplace those doubts all go away simply by reading the Cube3 manual.

User Guide, Cover Page

It probably is one of the best written manuals for any product that I've seen.  And, I go WAY back when it comes to reading manuals for technical products meant for consumers.

Putting 3D Systems' Accomplishment in Perspective

To put 3D System's astonishing speed with learning how to meet the operating and communication needs of consumers, it's helpful to compare it with the progress of another technical consumer industry, video recording.

My first new video camera was the Sony AV-3400 Portapak purchased in 1969 or 1970.

Sony AV-3400 Portapak - circa 1970

We used to joke that the the complete Sony Manual boiled down to a single sentence. "Wipe with a clean cloth."  Users had to rely on each other for any real information.  (A popular TV show at the time was "Have Gun - Will Travel".   One of the early problems was that the cover would move and stop the take-up reel.  A user wrote an article about how to fix it and titled it "Have Tape - Will Ravel")

It probably took a over decade for Sony to improve their manuals.  And, even then, they were only adequate by 1985 when their Video8 systems were first offered.

It's been more than 44 years since I purchased my first new video camera and while the manuals are more comprehensive, most are still confusing and poorly organized.  My most recent video camera purchase was the Panasonic HC-X920, which I now use for my blog videos.  Love the camera.  Tolerate the manual.  One has to jump around all over the place to find what they need to get the most out of the camera.

That is NOT the case for the Cube3 manual.  In just three short years 3D Systems has managed to include one of the best manuals for a potentially complex product that I have ever read.  Even the most novice of novices should find the Cube3 manual easy to follow.

The Cube3 manual is a clear and concise Step-by-Step guide to setting up and using the Cube3 printer that just about anyone and everyone can understand and follow.

The Annotated Illustrations are Excellent
As I was, once again, browsing through it this morning, I was struck by the mix of thoroughness and simplicity as each step is explained in detail without confusing technical jargon.  I was also struck by how well they have integrated images and illustrations to support their text and make it even more clear.

Step-by-Step with Illustrations

Please... take the time to walk through the manual even if you are an experienced 3D printer user.

Mastering Our Tools Moves us Farther Along

Just yesterday, I was teaching 3D design to a class of cadets and I noticed that they were in the application working hard as I was presenting the alignment tools found in the 3D design package.  They were so anxious to design something cool that they didn't fully appreciate one fact.  
Those who take the time to learn the tools of their craft will, in the end, go a lot farther and have more success than those who are too impatient to learn the fundamentals.
All of us tend to be impatient and excited about jumping right into printing something.  I understand that.  But, while I have had my Cube3 for several weeks now, I haven't printing many elaborate two-color masterpieces.  I have been focusing on learning how this tool works.  And, that has meant going through the manual methodically and then either performing operations described in the manual or printing small objects that test what I learn in that process.

Doing so gives me a better understanding of my tool... the Cube3... and how it differs from my previous 3D printing experience.  Two printjets is different than one printjet.  Extruders in the cartridge is different than a single extruder in a print head.  The manual is very helpful in clarifying how to work with these differences.  And, it will help keep me from doing things that might stop me from being able to print successfully.

Did you know, for instance, that all filament deteriorates over time in a moist environment.  So, it's best not to take your filament out of the package and set it aside for six months.  It's in the manual along with a lot of other useful information about things like periodic maintenance of the print table.

To My Chagrin... 

Having said all of the above, I have to admit that I am guilty of not having read the entire manual before giving advice about the Cube3 to a new owner regarding the new glue a few days ago.  They had asked how long the glue should dry and, based on my previous experience with the cube 1 and 2, I said they should NOT let it dry.  Imagine my surprise, when I subsequently read the Cube3 manual more closely and learned that, in fact, we ARE to let the glue dry before printing!  I had looked at the image without completely reading the text!  Bad Tom!  Bad!!!

Read the text!  Don't just look at the pictures!

By not reading the User Guide in detail to learn my tool completely before giving advice, I put myself and others in the position of possibly having a LESS successful printing experience!

Having made that mistake myself, I wanted to pass on to you the importance of taking advantage of ALL the user guide has to say.  Even the shortest sentence in a sea of great images can make a huge difference.

3D Systems has given us a terrific personal 3D printer.  But, they've also given us a terrific manual to help us learn our tool and get the most out of it.  It's well worth reading.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Cube 3 Review - Installment 1: General Impressions

My initial thoughts on opening up the box, setting up the printer and running the first print was that the Cube 3 is not an evolution as much as it is a revolution for consumer and educational 3D printing.

Coming from first using a RepRap style of 3D printer to the 1st Generation Cube was a huge step.  The 1st Gen Cube was definitely a revolutionary product that lifted 3D printing from simply being a techies hobby into being a true consumers product.

The 2nd Gen Cube was an evolutionary step in making 3D printing more acceptable for use around young children by replacing the heated print table. Over the life of the 2nd Gen Cube it continued to evolve as a product through both hardware and firmware updates.   The Cube design and software teams did an extraordinary job of upgrading various hardware modules and continually offering meaningful firmware updates.  Considering the number of machines that must have been sold, I received very few emails with complaints from users.  And, most of those ended up being related to their not fully understanding the cartridge unload process, gapping or how to apply the glue correctly.  A few related to print table leveling issues.

Both personally and through the 3D printing classes I teach, I have printed hundreds and hundreds of objects on the 1st and 2nd Gen Cubes and considered them very reliable printers in the hands of experienced users.  But, much of the care and feeding of the 1st and 2nd gen Cubes was manual, included in setting the printjet gap and leveling the print table.

The 3rd Generation Cube team set about to make the Cube even more user friendly by automating both the print table leveling and printjet gapping processes.  But, they also provided the tools and techniques for us to perform both of these tasks manually in a much easier way than was available in earlier Cube versions.

As many of you know, I had  stroke earlier this year.  While I am fine, it did require us to completely alter course in the way I was delivering content to my 3D printing classes.  Due to the pressures of my having to create an all new curriculum and countless videos for the 3D printing classes I have not had the time to completely test and evaluate my new Cube 3.  So, I will have to deliver my thoughts in installments.

In this installment, I want to convey my absolute amazement at the huge leap in technology and usability that is the 3rd Gen Cube.  It's quieter, faster and is capable of turning out beautiful prints.  Combined with the new software, we are given the opportunity to control multiple aspects of the printing process, from fast "Draft" 200mm layer printing to super smooth "Premium" with 70mm layers.  While ABS still has some propensity to warp, the warping I've experienced is less than with the 2nd Gen Cube.  A LOT less. I had abandoned ABS with the 2nd Gen Cube, using the 1st Gen Cube when I needed ABS.  But, as I write this, I am printing my "Cube 3 Torture Test" consisting of 3 test objects in ABS and only one of the three shows signs of warping.  And, the warping that I do see is minimal and has not interfered with printing the bulk of the object.  That's a big improvement.

The overall experience of using the Cube 3 is like that one might dream about (If one could afford it) in owning a fine ultra-luxury motor car.  It's sleek, solid and comfortable.

Like Eric, I, too, have experienced a clog. But, in terms of bringing my printing to a halt it is a very different experience than that of any other consumer 3D printer, including earlier generation Cubes.  It's more like having a nail in a tire than a broken valve in an engine.  Clogs may be annoying; but, they no longer have to be "show-stoppers".   Simply replace the cartridge and get back to work!

Interestingly, both Eric and I had clogs with a PLA Neon Green cartridge.  Having now used four other colors in both ABS and PLA, I'm wondering, since the units were shipped with Neon Green, if we had very early cartridge builds. 

There is one other small issue, that both Eric and I have observed, that we are certain that will be addressed in a firmware update.  Small bits of filament sometimes fall onto the print table.  They come from the wipers on either side of the printer.  I was able to capture the process in slow motion video and have sent that video to 3D Systems.  It's not a big deal; but, I will be happy when a future firmware update makes it a thing of the past.  It's annoying like white lint on a black suit.  But, again, it does not materially affect the precision and accuracy of the print.

And, speaking of accuracy, the first thing I printed was a "thin wall" test.  Walls defined under 1mm in my software package are printed under .84mm.  But, walls defined as 1mm walls print EXACTLY at 1mm in both circles, rectangles and triangles.  Point of triangles are super sharp.  I'm blown away by the astonishing accuracy of the 3rd Gen Cube. 

I can't imagine a better printer for the classroom.  It's rugged and compact.  Like earlier Cubes it is built to travel well... which means it can be locked away in a secure place, brought out when needed and begin printing immediately.

The bottom line is, that aside from a single clog and a few random pieces of filament falling onto the print table, the experience with the 3rd Gen Cube has been absolutely wonderful.  It is a significantly more impressive experience than with my previous printers and you KNOW I love my 1st and 2nd Gen Cubes!

I can't afford a Bentley.  But, I CAN enjoy the solid feel and luxury of a 3rd Gen Cube.

P.S.  OK...  So, it's not EXACTLY the same experience.  But, it sure makes me feel as if I'm living large to have such a wonderful 3D printer on my desk.  :)

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Check out Eric Albert's "First Impressions" Review of the Cube 3.

This blog is not about being the "First" to review, it's about making sure that Cube owners and potential Cube owners have all the information they need to keep on printing!  So, here is the first substantive test review of the Cube 3 printer by Eric Albert.

Here is Eric Albert's "Early Impressions" review of the Cube 3.

I finally have a Cube 3 here.    But, due to intense deadlines for my YouthQuest 3D ThinkLink Lab training lesson preparation I have not had much time with it so far.

All I will say for now is that those who have one on order did the right thing.

You will not believe the feature set that this printer brings to the table.  I am in awe of the engineering and design.  And, even more in awe of the print quality.

This blog only focuses on Cube family products.  I could do a quick review raving about how good it is.  But, you'd just blow me off as a "fan boy"... for which I cheerfully plead guilty  But, more importantly, it wouldn't help you truly understand what a marvelous accomplishment this printer represents for the future of personal, consumer, educational 3D printing.

This is a different animal folks.

It's the kind of machine that makes you want to simply sit back and appreciate the brilliance of the engineers, designers and builders.  (Precision designs require equally precise builders.)  

Building the Cube 3 is no small task.  It's a marvel of engineering both inside and out.

I was at the factory yesterday with 20+ Youth Challenge cadets and saw, first hand, how much those charged with building your printer are committed to delivering your machine without compromising on quality one little bit.  I have always appreciated both the Cube engineering and manufacturing teams.  But, I now appreciate them a whole lot more.  Their combined efforts are going to put a truly remarkable machine into your hands.

This is SO new, that I would not be surprised if some tweaking here or there did not have to be done to reach the level of perfection that all parties want.  After all, so many systems are completely new.  But. I promise to tell you if I find or learn about a potential issue and/or ways to avoid them when possible.  But, for now, I am completely excited by the amazing quality of my prints I'm seeing through my trusty microscope at the .200mm setting... and, I have yet to try .07mm!

Friday, October 3, 2014

1st Cube 3 Report - Awesome Right Out of the Box

Just received my first report from Eric Albert...

First Report from Eric

Tom: got it set up and running.

This thing is AWESOME!!! The product folks at 3D Systems should all get bonuses - it is filled with genius. It appears to level and measure build height optically! I just ran the short test print and now am running the classic rook that 3D Systems included on the Cube 1 and 2.

But - it isn't a "cube!" Pictures can be deceiving - but it is not as deep as it is wide, and not as big as I thought it would be. But the build plate is bigger than the 1/2 versions.

Out of the box and working in 10 minutes with NO issues! I'll be getting some pics and a write up out this weekend, but this is definitely the machine to get! Love the part preview on the screen. And the color touchscreen is really neat.- Eric
Sent from my iPad

OK.  NOW, I'm jealous!!!!

Look for more from Eric soon!  Now, remember, he owns or uses 3D printers from several different manufacturers so he's highly qualified to judge AWESOME when he sees it!

I like the part about the product folks should all get bonuses.  I know a fair number of them and I agree that from the little time I had with it at shows, etc. it is DEFINITELY filled with genius.  I had every confidence that this was going to be a gamechanger!