Sunday, September 10, 2017

Of Flutes, Irma and 3D Printing

I was first an inquiring potential customer, looking to buy a bamboo Irish Flute.  But, the more I learned about Erik The Flutemaker, the more I admired not only his skills as a flutemaker; but, his passion to help those in the deepest poverty through his not-for-profit, Flutemaker Ministries.

I ended up not only buying several flutes from Erik; but, a bamboo saxophone for a friend of my granddaughter since the first grade to benefit Erik's ministry to special needs kids in Nicaragua.

Ultimately, I have become a friend, attempting to use my 3D design and printing skills to help him in his work with the goal to design and print a mouthpiece suitable for some of his flutes.  It's been quite a challenge to find the "sweet spot" that equals the wonderful tone he is able to generate through more expensive and labor intensive alternatives.  I have learned a LOT!.

His bamboo grove is in Davis, Florida which is now being affected by Irma.

He just sent me this link, knowing I was concerned for the safety of him and his family.  I just had to share it with you as Erik's skill and his spirit comes through so impressively.   The sound track is him playing one of his flutes.

I'm hoping that you, like I did when I first learned about Erik the Flutemaker, will completely explore his web site and enjoy the beauty of his music.  And, I hope that some of you might consider buying one of his flutes that benefit Flutemaker Ministries.  

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

WOW Scope! A tool for the whole family

UPDATE:  I contacted Gorilla Scientific and the scope in link #1, IS an SMD-09 having two sets of eyepieces.  It is in a different box; but, functionally the same.  In fact, the ones I purchased so far are in the 1st version of the packaging and say "Worlds of Wonder Scope".  So, I'm confident that either source is a great one.

As many of you know I have relied on a variety of microscopes to evaluate and explain issues in my 3D prints.  I've previously posted that my favorite scope, among many that I own, is also one of the least expensive.  That scope has now been improved and expanded and, not only does it remain a terrific bargain, it expands on its price / performance value by adding two levels of magnification.
WOW Scope from C & A Scientific
The first versions upon which this product is based were 20x magnification.  That was wonderful for viewing things like 3D prints, bugs and just about anything curious that you find around the house.  But, the WOW Scope also includes eyepieces that boost the magnification to 50x!  And, it adds a bottom light along with the top LED light.

When searching for the correct microscope, I wish that we could simply enter "WOW Scope" to find it on Amazon.  But, you will have to enter "WOW Scope SMD-09".  Even then you will have to be careful and look for the following feature to ensure you are going to recieve the proper scope.

For instance, I found two entries...  Here is SEARCH RESULT ONE:

It's just $44.95 and comes with a box of minerals.  It MIGHT be the most recent SMD-09; but, before ordering I would send the vendor a note requesting verification.  Here's why.

Possible SMD-09

 Notice the little button just in front of the microscope's riser?  That is no longer the light switch for the most recent version.  It may be that the vendor did not have an image of the most recent SMD-09 version and simply used the image of the prior version of the My First Lab Stereo Scope.  If that is the only reason for the discrepancy, it is a great bargain at only $44.95 with Prime shipping.  The ad DOES mention the 50x capability.  But, would still confirm that it is the one you want.

SEARCH RESULT #2 is a bit more expensiv, at $69.99; but, it DOES have the image of the correct scope.

SMDZ -09 - Correct Image
Notice that there is no button switch in fron of the rise.  The rocker-type light switch is to the right of the base.  You can buy this one with confidence that it is the latest WOW SMD-09 scope.


There is a reason why I keep encouraging my readers to invest in a low-power stereo microscope for themselves and their children.  It grows our brains.  Every time you use a microscope of ANY type, you see something entirely new and every new experience that we and our children have adds new molecular structure to our brains.  I am convinced that the reason my granddaughter is planning to go to a school like Johns Hopkins is, in part, because she was exposed at an early age to the very first version of this particular scope and has used it year after year to examine bugs, flowers, stuffed toys and a whole host of other things she wanted examine more closely.

Conversely, I am convinced that many of the inherently bright, young at-risk and dropped out students with whom I work now were denied those mind expanding opportunities at an early age.  They had little opportunity to grow new connections that a microscope like this in their homes that would have provided that brain growing stimulation.

It dawns on me that all of us might have an opportunity during the holidays to donate something to a toy drive for Christmas.  Think about the SMD-09 when considering a donation.  Help grow a brain!


Saturday, July 1, 2017

PolySmooth - Another Reason for Expanding Our View

I know that 3D Systems was working on expanding the material offerings to 3rd Gen Cube and CubePro owners because I was included in some of the new material testing and in one case received a new material by accident.  These included infused filaments like wood and metal.

But, the minute 3D Systems decided to drop their FDM printers, any hope that 3rd Gen Cube owners would have the benefits of newly introduced filaments vanished.  And, there are some great new filaments!

One of the benefits of adding the JellyBox (kit), M3D Micro, M3D Micro+, M3D Pro and M3D ProMega to our lab serving at-risk young people is that all of these platforms allow us to use 3rd party filaments.  They don't all allow us to use ANY filament; but, some do... including the potential for eventually printing extremely high temperature filament like PEEK, PAEK and Ultem (PEI) using hot ends capable of reaching over 400C degrees.

My focus in this post is to introduce a filament that, unless we broaden our view and consider other 3D printers, would allude Cube/CubePro owners... PolySmooth from PolyMaker.Com.

PolySmooth prints at just a slightly higher temperature than PLA, 210C-230C.  Like PLA, PolySmooth is sensitive to moisture and spools must be protected when not being used for printing.  But, UNLIKE PLA, it can be smoothed using isoprophyl alcohol vapors in a similar way ABS can be smoothed using acetone.  I've tried the acetone vapor method and find it to be way too scary and way too toxic to be safely used in my home or the lab.

That is not true of the preferred nethod of smoothing PolySmooth, which is a device called the Polysher, which works like an enclosed cool-mist vaporizer using a nebulizer system.   I will soon be making a video of my own experience using PolySmooth and the Polysher system; but, until that happens, this video is very helpful in seeing exactly how well it works.

I can attest that it does work, and works very, very well.  Obviously, results vary based on the underlying quality of the print.  As you can see in the above video it is well enclosed so, while alcohol is flammable, the vapor is well contained and, unlike the acetone methods no heat is used, reducing the danger exponentially.  If the user is patient and lets everything settle down after a part has been processed before raising the elevator, fumes are minimal.  So, I feel confident using the Polysher in my home and around our cadets and at-risk students in the YouthQuest 3D ThinkLink Lab.

The truly cool thing for me is that even the $200-$299 M3D Micro/Micro+ can print using PolySmooth, so it's not just for the highest end 3D printers.

The black PolySmooth that I purchased with the Polysher system doesn't photograph well enough to truly see the remarkable changes that occur between the original and processed versions of a print.  I have orderd some light blue PolySmooth and will immediately print some objects and post an update with images showing my personal results.  But, trust me, it is VERY cool.

My goal with this blog has always been about helping Cube owners have the best possible 3D printing experience.  And, that extends to that phase in our journey where it becomes necessary to expand our view beyond the realm of the Cube experience.  It doesn't cost a lot, relative to our investment in the Cube printers to use our experience to expand what we can do.

On Amazon, PolySmooth is $39 and the Polysher system is $299.  New 3D printers capable of printing the PolySmooth can be had for as little as $200.  That means the total cost of new printer, Polysher and Polysmooth is less than our investment in any of the Cube printers we've owned.  While I love owning each of the Cubes (1st, 2nd and 3rd Gen Cubes), I am finding I have been able to leverage that experience best by moving to new 3D printing platforms that offer me a much wider range of materials and 3D printing possibilities.  The PolySmooth/Polysher system is just one more reason for expanding our view.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

ProMega 15.3"x15.3"x15.3" from M3D

One of the unique things M3D does best is to minimize the outside footprint relative to the size of their print area.  That continues with their newest offering, a commercial 3D printer for industrial production applications.

The newly announced ProMega provides a 15.3"x15.3"x15.3" build area in 20" all metal enclosed housing and was revealed on a new crow funding site Fit For Launch
M3D ProMega

The roll-out includes a novel pricing strategy.  The official MSRP is $3,500 after the Fit For Launch funding period.  But, the Fit for Launch opening price was $1,000.  Periodically, the price is raised and at the time of this writing the pre-order price is $1,170.00. 

In contrast to earlier M3D printers, except for the proprietary heated bed, the ProMega is almost entirely open source in both hardware and software.  This should be assuring for anyone who has never had experience with using M3D products.  This means that replacement parts and software improvements can be obtained from a variety of vendors.

I am confident that it is an incredible value and will deliver on every promise.  So what are these promises?  Let's look at the specs as published on Fit For Launch.

I have seen the ProMega in action and, as a backer, follow the progress on a daily basis. I have never experienced such an open and candid process.

With a 20" footprint, it probably not for everyone.  But, for those looking for a fast dual material switching printer that uses a single nozzle (avoiding nozzle leveling problems) this is, in my opinion, a really great value.  CubePro users will especially appreciate that ANY filament can be used and print tips can be interchanged for different materials and temperature requirements.

I do want to mention the unique heated bed strategy.  There is a center area and a second surrounding area so that one doesn't have to heat the entire bed when printing an individual object that completely falls within the center zone.  Leveling and gap are entirely automatic using a sensor that actually works.

We bought in at the $1,000 launch.  Quite frankly, having already purchased more than a dozen  Micro and Micro+printers from M3D, we knew we could trust them to deliver the ProMega, giving our lab a large platform dual extrusion printer that could superior prints with high speed performance.

It would be foolish for us to NOT pursue the ProMega at the entry price of $1,000.  It's going to be a bargain at $3,500!  All of our CubePro Duo and Trio printers cost more than the ProMega and while they performed for us, the ProMega is a big step up in terms of print quality and cost of materials.  We're really looking forward to its arrival.

I hope to be able to see it in action again in the near future and will keep you up to date on its progress.  But, if a large platform commercial caliber printer with a heated bed fits your 3D printing needs, I urge you to take a serious look at the ProMega Fit for Launch page.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Super Excited About the New M3D Micro+ at $299!!!

I've been telling you about the upcoming M3D Pro printer.  While they are still in ALPHA testing, I have one and it promises to be everything I had hoped it would be.


While my attention was on the Pro, M3D made MAJOR upgrades to the Micro and quietly released it today through Sharper Image.  And, it still just $299!

M3D sold more than 50,000 Micro 3D printers.  And, this upgrade is destined to sell even more.

Here is a link to the MICRO+ FEATURES PAGE.

The major changes include self-leveling bed and an optional heated bed.  The other major change is the ability to speed up prints to about 2.5 times of the original Micro.  The temperature control is also more accurate!  The printer also includes a special "Micro Motion Chip" which provides "intelligent positioning feedback for precision."  Frankly, I have no clue as yet what this does.  But, it certainly sounds impressive.  :)

I'll nail that one down after I finish this article.  Whatever it is has GOT to be a good thing.

It still requires connection to the printer during the entire print job. But, I have not found that to be a show-stopper.  

 STRIKE THAT!!!  I just learned that it no longer has to be tethered to the computer during the entire print job!!  THAT'S HUGE!

I use my Micro all the time, preferring it over the Cubes due to the issues with filament quality and the Micro's ability to print flexible materials, nylon and carbon fiber.

The software can take any .STL, .OBJ or .ZIP (with an object in it).

The great thing about the cost of running a Micro is that you can use any filament you like.  And, the filaments directly from M3D ar anywhere from $13-$18.  The filament page is being updated as I write this so hey may be adding the new larger Pro reels which, of course, would be a bit more.

When I heard the Micro+ was now available through Sharper Image, I ordered 4 of them.  So, by this time next week, I should be able to give you a rundown about what I find, including a comparison with the first generation Micro.

In the meantime, I can tell you that I am super excited about the potential of the new Micro+ and the MicroPro in our work with at-risk young people.  They are destined to have a role in turning young lives around in a very positive way!

Saturday, May 6, 2017

A Refreshing 3D Printer Roll-Out Difference

If you never plan to purchase a new 3D printer to replace your Cube printer(s) then you can skip this blog post.

But, if you want to at least learn from my experiences as I look around for a future 3D printer, then you should find this helpful.

M3D in just now releasing the M3D Pro.

M3D Pro 3D Printer

I don't have one as yet.  But, it promises to be an excellent 7x7 printer with a lot of cool features.  But, that is not the focus of this post.  This post is about how one company is handling the introduction of a new 3D printer.

The M3D PRO Roll-Out Experience

M3D announced the Pro 3D printer on KickStarter in August of 2016 with expected delivery in January of this year.  While it is only just now being released, I have not heard any complaints about the delay as most supporters seem to be M3D Micro users and trust the company.  That is my own experience as well.

All companies are pressured by announcements.  We certainly experienced this with 3D Systems.  But, M3D had a greater commitment to reliability and quality.  They are also the most candid company I've seen when it comes to being realistic about the state of development.

As usual, promised delivery was based on different supporter tiers.  But, M3D has clearly stated what features will or will not be ready be various delivery dates.  And, they gave buyers the choice to accept early delivery, with the potential for possible issues or postponing delivery if they didn't want the potential hassle that an ALPHA release can entail.

Frankly, having seen the chaos of the premature delivery of the 3rd Gen Cube under the pressure of prior announcements, I REALLY appreciate M3D's approach.

As with any new product, the first delivered have had some not-unexpected minor issues.  Right now the machines being shipped are in the ALPHA stage of development and they are moving into machines that could be designated as BETA printers.  But, every one that is taking delivery now knows exactly what to expect and has chosen to take early delivery to help perfect the product.

Even though I do not have one as yet, as a Kickstarter Backer, I have access to the special forums that have been set up for backers.  So, I have been able to keep up with the roll-out as it progresses.

M3D's Top Management Involvement

When was the last time you saw top management of a company be actively involved in product support during the critical introductory phase?

As I've watched the support and interaction between M3D and users of ALPHA an BETA M3D Pro 3D printers, the first thing that strikes me is that it is the TOP management of M3D that is actively involved in direct support!

What a refreshing change that is!

I'm not talking about management asking or answering a few questions here or there.  I'm taking about the TOP management chasing down any and all issues that new Pro owners find and report.  And, they follow up with the user until they have a firm grasp of the issue so that they have they have the information that engineering will need to chase it down and correct it.  It's amazing to watch.

This has a profound affect of the progress of development.  It's one thing for a web support person to report an issue to engineering and quite another when the person reporting is a top official!  I expect things happen a bit faster in that situation.  But, it does something else.  And, this is why it makes so much sense you have to wonder why other CEOs and officials don't follow suit.

First, I can think of no better strategy for really having a handle on the REAL status of just about every aspect of your company from engineering to suppliers to production line quality control.  You're not "micro-managing"  You are gathering information and delegating fixes in the most pro-active way possible.

Secondly, it recognizes that at this particular period of time there is nothing more important than perfecting both the product and the production line as quickly and efficiently as possible.  The feedback is coming back to management completely unfiltered.

A, perhaps most importantly, it is an opportunity to gain the trust and respect your customers at a very critical time in the life of every company... the introduction of their latest and greatest product.

Believe me, while I do yet have a Pro printer, and I do not know the status of it's progress at the time I do take delivery, I do know one thing.  The people at the top at M3D not only care; but, will ACTIVELY support me should I face issues.

And, even if you are not among the KickStarter backers, once Pro is released into full production, the support you will get from their regular support staff is backed by management that has proven they care.  The attitude at the top at M3D trickles down in a very positive way.

Quite a nice feeling.  :)

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

10 'New' Cube3 Cartridges - 7 Defective... so far

As most of you know, I know, and like, many of the engineers and support people at 3D Systems.  So, I'm generally slow to be critical.

But, unfortunately, what I feared most about the withdrawal of the Cube3 from the marketplace, out-dated cartridges, seems to have come true.

We just purchased 10 'new' cartridges for our Cube3 printers.  I've opened and tried to use seven (7) so far.  And, all seven have had the very same issue.  The filament has broken at the entrance to the extrusion housing.

Seven out of ten... so far!

Now, I have been dealing with these cartridges for a number of years now.  So, I know HOW to fix a cartridge if I have to.  But, having to fix more than a half dozen if no fun at all.

Calling support to alert them to the problem, the response I got wasn't encouraging.  The last four digits of the batch numbers were 2916.  This meant that the cartridge was built in the 29th week of 2016.  That would be the week of July 10-17, 2016.   Apparently, 3D Systems assumes that filament, in the protective bag and sealed box, has a shelf life of at least one year.  Yet, our filament was opened in March of 2017... less than 9 months later!

My guess is that filament packaged in the winter month might actually be OK for 12 months.  But, filament packaged in the humid months of summer may not last quite as long.

This is a serious issue for owners of cube3 printers.  Even if one knows how to try to rehabilitate a cartridge, it takes a lot of time and aggravation.  Plus, it's difficult to do just using the purge function of the Cube3.  The heat cycle does not last long enough and we have no way to control the duration of optimal heat at the tip of the print jet.

While I have resisted publishing 'hacks', I am coming to the conclusion that we have no alternative in order to be able to use our Cube3 printers on demand.  While I have some sympathy for 3D System's situation... having to stock multiple colors of filament for a diminishing number of users... if we cannot count on them for good filament when we need it, we are forced to try to come up with alternatives if we can.

Even with the tools that I have purchased and designed to help me restore a broken cartridge, it takes at least an hour to fix one.  And, some, will take even more effort.  Fortunately, I have some empty cartridges from which I can steal the guide should I not be able to use the original quide in the broken cartridge.  I think those old cartridges might come in handy!

If I'm ever able to complete the project for which the filament was purchased, I start searching for 'hacks' that might help us out in the future.