OK, some of my pictures are not optimal, but in the interest of getting some things out there for those waiting or considering purchasing this model, here we go…
This gives you an idea of the size – it is not as deep as it is wide or tall – neatly sitting on a conventional computer desk. The lighting is bright as you can see, and the color touch screen control panel and power button are all the controls for the entire machine. Yet it has a larger build volume than the Cube 1 and 2 units at 6″ in x, y and z.
Cartridges mount on the sides of the unit. They snap in to the base and the nozzle locks into the head with a 60 degree spin. You can see the drive pin in the very center of the cartridge tray, and the socket on the cartridge itself. As far as I know, this is the first use of a remote extruder drive in a consumer 3D printer (the Stratasys Mojo was the first I think on the commercial side). This design feeds and forces the filament up from the cartridge to the head – there is no motor or other drive at the nozzle end. While the pathway is short and the tube sealed, this design has some potential issues – but on the plus side you get a new extruder drive and nozzle with each cartridge.
The motor for the filament drive is inside the Cube. In the Cube 1 and 2 units, the head itself had the drive motor inside, and the filament was drawn from the cartridge. Yes, these cartridges, like the Cube 1 and 2, are chipped and proprietary, but unlike the opaque shells used earlier, the frosted clear plastic allows a quick visual on the remaining filament. But I believe they contain as much or more filament than the old cartridges – approximately 500g is on the spool. And despite what must be a higher cost per cartridge shell, the price is the same as before.
Setup was quick and easy. The touch screen leads you through with visuals and text to let you know what is next. The demo build is a small keychain fob and a cursive “Hi!” printed below it. So after getting things connected, I went on to do some builds of my own.
The one I really wanted to try was the dual color faceted vase that is an included sample. So I took the plunge and set it up for green on the main part and black on the round side features (in my unit, the starter cartridges were neon green and black PLA). As I made it full size, the total estimated build time came to 36 hours at 70 micron layers. Things got off to a good start, but somewhere a few hours into the build the green cartridge stopped extruding. What I found was the machine “air printing” and some of the black that was part of the two-color build was now tossed around the machine (not having the green part printed to the layer where the black would take part in the build). The problem turned out to be the cartridge was jammed; I could see shards of green filament inside the center of the cartridge hub below the extruder drive. The black cartridge was perfectly fine. The picture above is how far it got before jamming, but you probably should not judge that build as the best because the cartridge was defective. However, after this was cleaned up, I printed a black only one in smaller size and in “Draft” mode. The results in this fastest mode with 200 micron layers is incredible. Yes I’m disappointed that my first build failed due to the green cartridge. However, a note to customer support got a fast response and a new cartridge is being sent to replace the defective one. The picture on the left is that build. I’m not sure I will use the 70 micron layer height much if the 200 micron builds are this good (and remember, this is the fastest setting!). The model here is about 3.5″ high.
While the Cube3 does not have a webcam to monitor prints, it does have a 2D side view of the part you are printing as a “progress bar” of sorts. And this can be viewed not only from the unit’s display but also in the apps that are used to sent it files. Both the android and iOS apps work but neither of these mobile apps allow for the modification of the part before printing (such as scaling) at least for now. So this is all I’ve been able to print so far, and I rather wait to get the green replacement to try more builds. The small green circle is another try at the vase in green with the green cartridge on the right side, using the same draft mode. But alas, the green cartridge is stuck and will do no more…
So am I pleased with this? Yes, while frustrating to get a bad cartridge out of the box new, the machine itself is lightyears ahead of the previous Cube generations. There are some things not easily spotted unless you look past covers and slots. For one, the internal chassis is CNC’d aluminum frames, not pressed steel as in the earlier Cubes. This makes the unit very light. Dovetail linear bearings are used for all three axes. While mine still makes a few squeaks and squawks, I suspect it will get quieter with use. The waste tanks are hidden in each side but easily removed to empty. The build plate is a plastic coated aluminum plate with embedded magnets to attach it. Be careful – they are strong – and not obvious where they are unless you see the mounting pad on the machine where they attach. There is a fan for the heater assembly in the head and a separate fan for cooling the part top layer. Both are hidden in the head, which is pretty small to begin with. Autoleveling and height adjustment are completely automatic and appear to use an optical sensor to determine the adjustments – but I need to investigate this further.
So despite the cartridge problem, I’d highly recommend this unit for someone either new or experienced in 3D printing. And I’ll be doing more builds and examples soon with comparisons to commercial machines that cost many times more than this does.
UPDATE: Based on early customer experiences, the firmware and calibration options have been improved to adjust for small, but important differences in the two nozzle heights. This change has greatly improved my results – one nozzle was slightly higher than the other, and if you used that nozzle to build, the slightly lower one would nudge the build layer and cause issues. As of late November, I’m waiting for new cartridges (which were listed as shipping on 11/25). I still have some material on my original black and green PLA cartridges, but without refills I’m going to have an idle machine.