Solidoodle – end of the road


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sdoodleripAlthough the signs of impending doom were evident since late last Fall, Solidoodle formally announced end of operations on March 28.  You can read Sam Cervantes’ message to the Solidoodle community here:


Solidoodle Press

As I expected, the Press was cited as a major reason for their demise.  You can check my previous blog posts for my experience with an early released unit.  This was a smart looking machine with miserable performance, although with time it did get better – but never close to my Solidoodle2, which continues to run even today (albeit with some needed modifications).

So another 3D printer manufacturer closes its doors.  Sam doesn’t say what he is planning to do now that his company is gone, but I wish him luck in his future endeavors…

2015 – A look back and ahead to 2016

This morning 3D Systems announced “end of life” for their consumer 3D printer, the Cube 3… Cube 3 Discontinued and while parts and supplies will be available for some time, the refocus of 3D Systems into the higher-end educational and industrial applications is a reflection of the narrow profit margins for low-volume per vendor and lots of competition in the consumer space — not to mention that the expected “3D printer in every home” is not even close to reality.

It has been a hard year for consumer-level additive manufacturing in general.  And despite some record funding, additive manufacturing projects on Kickstarter such as Pirate3D have collapsed in a heap.  Solidoodle is rumored to be bankrupt Solidoodle out of money.  Several others also folded (Phoenix3D, MakiBox, supposedly Zeepro, etc.) and of course as mentioned above, 3D Systems has ended their consumer Cube line in favor of refocusing on educational and industrial markets.

This was as I predicted – the wave of startups brought chaos and fragmentation to the consumer marketplace though there are good choices to be had.  A problem remains — 3D printers, no matter what the make, are not just one more “D” in complexity than ink jet/laser paper printers on the desktop.

However, the educational applications are indeed great.  In the “STEM” field, the ability to create and then “print” designs as part of the overall learning experience is an important enhancement.  In a way, this is nothing unexpected – project-based learning has always been at the core of good teaching.  Learning about an electronic circuit is fine but getting the parts and making it actually work is another level of skill. The same applies to mechanical designs and 3D printing – as part of a larger maker space or even as a community resource.

So what is in store for 2016?  The Consumer Electronics Show in early January in Las Vegas will be one indicator.  I predict we’ll see substantive improvements and useful tweaks in consumer offerings, and I’m hoping that liquid systems, though still fussy, will continue to be refined and reduced in cost.  The “plug-and-play” 3D printer is not here yet and may not be soon, but I’m not giving up on the technology!

And one last word – to keep this blog independent and self-sustaining, a small donation to my “caffeine fund” would be appreciated! Just find the “donate button” on the left side of the web page – even $1 will be gratefully acknowledged! 🙂

Amazing new tabletop laser cutter

CO2 laser cutters have been around for a while, but they are either very expensive or just (like low-end imports) not well designed.  A new offering that is probably the most consumer friendly device I’ve seen in this area is called the “Glowforge.”  The basic unit comes with a 40W CO2 laser, continuous autofocus, a 12″ x 20″ bed and internal object recognition cameras that work to identify the materials and alignment.

Check it out here:  glowforge laser

And if you would like a $100 coupon off the purchase check here:  $100 Coupon

This will cover the $99 shipping charge (if you are in the US) so think of it as free shipping!

Early orders go out in December 2015 but I’d guess that later orders will not be fulfilled until mid-2016 (just guessing).

UPDATE: Shipments have been delayed for at least 6 months due to an issue with the power supply – claimed to be a custom component – and that only now (4/16) have the first samples of properly spec’d parts arrived. Refunds are available if you do not want to wait…

Some upcoming reports and a coupon!

First – a shameless promotion… MakerBot is running a coupon special.  If you tap on this link $25 MakerBot Coupon you’ll get a coupon for $25 off your order on a MakerBot machine and supplies.  The details will appear in a new window… Yes, I’ll get a small commission if you use this custom coupon, but any receipts go back into paying for this blog and purchasing machines and materials to test and review.

So while I’ve been quiet for a bit, here are some upcoming reviews that you might find useful:

DaVinci Nobel 1.0 SLA

iBox Nano SLA

Little RP SLA w/tilt option

SeeMeCNC Droplit SLA

And maybe by the end of October, a Peachy Printer…

Spring update

Despite the fact that it is astronomical spring here in the northeast US, still a pile of accumulated snow remains in my front yard.  Hopefully it will not last much longer!

Since early February I’ve been focused at work on a number of extra projects and at my home shop, working on updates to current machines.  So here is a brief summary as to where things are at this stage:

1. MakerBot Mini – working really well, new firmware released recently has made it quieter and the mandatory rafts are now much easier to remove.

2. Cube 3d Generation – with both client and firmware updates and along with some tweaks in the cartridge design have now made this machine very reliable (for me anyway) and builds are working in one or two color mode.

3. Solidoodle Press – soon up for sale.  I’ll be putting it on ebay for $349 plus shipping, maybe less… contact me if you’re interested.

4. Zeepro Zim – the user interface has improved by leaps and bounds.  The machine itself is solidly built and is probably the most quiet hardware out there.  Now that cloud printing and remote control is available, it is one worth considering.  To sweeten the deal, they were having a limited sale at their site recently.

A new addition to my software resources is Simplify3D.  I’ll be doing a separate review soon, but wanted to mention that it does run a DaVinci 3D 1.0a machine just fine and the results are far better than the free client supplied from xyzprinting with the machine.  In fact, their client software is probably the worst one out there — you’d think a large corporation could manage to create an exemplary user interface to their equipment.  Their new Junior unit is now listed on Amazon for pre-order.

Solidoodle Press – more fixes and improvements

I managed to print a 20mm calibration cube using some ABS filament other than what was sent with the machine.  The part came out with some interesting defects (the side walls showed definite herringbone patterns, suggesting insufficient drive to the extruder motor) however the X and Y accuracy was pretty good. But as I unloaded the filament at the end of the job, it was obvious that I too now had the “loose screw” in the drive wheel problem.

Fixing that is not difficult – take the plastic cover off and the left side of the extruder body using the two thumbscrews.  Then take the fan on the right side off and it will uncover some slits where you can easily insert a 1.5mm allen wrench.  Of course you’ll have to get the drive wheel in the correct place on the stepper motor shaft, as well as the proper front spacing.

Pictures coming soon.  Note also Solidoodle released an update (1.1.1 now) to the client software on 2/12 or so) – it fixes some issues reported so far.

UPDATE:  while I get my video properly edited, here are the things you can do to improve your head cable:

1. Remove (and discard!) the factory supplied black cable loom piece – if it is like mine, it is too stiff, too large, and too big in diameter.  It just gets in the way.

2. Use a tywrap to fix the cable bundle at the head to the top side of the extruder motor.  I also used some hot melt glue as an enhancement.  The wires should come off of the left side of the head, low and with enough give for the Z probe to move.

3. Use some tywraps to make the cable bundle secure along its length back to where the wires enter the chassis.

3. Fix an elastic string (I got some at a fabric shop) to the cable bundle about midway, and hot melt glue it there and to the front left corner of the chassis.  There will be some need for experimentation for the best “preload.”  What this does is keep the cable assembly tensioned so that it remains relatively suspended no matter where the head is positioned.

4. Finally, use 1/4″ plastic spiral wrap (I tried 1/8″ and it is too tight) to cover the entire length of the cable.

If I can only get my regular day job of late done, I’ll be able to get to this fun stuff! 😉  And a new post with video will be there soon.  This works fairly well so far but I remain convinced it is just an interim solution — something better is needed for the long term.

DSC01944 DSC01949

Solidoodle Press – epic fail!

To test this new machine, I used a “trivase” model which is fairly good for finding faults in sidewall consistency and Z wobble problems.  Because my first test model didn’t stick very well to the build plate, I used a thin coating of 3D Systems Cube(tm) Magic glue – this stuff is nearly clear and is not PVA like Elmers but still is water soluble.  After hairspray and Kapton tape, this is my favorite bed stick materal.  DSC01939   I let the machine run overnight. Next morning, though the job was “done,” this is what I saw in the machine – a partially completed vase.  What happened?  Turns out, I had a filament tangle in the spool.DSC01938  This is that tangle… and the filament had snapped inside the machine, running out as it kept trying to build – an airprint of sorts.

I detangled this mess, reloaded the filament and then tried to start another job.  But something was not right.  The extruder would work at the front of the machine, but not the back?  Bed leveling issue???  I thought the Z probe autolevel was supposed to fix this (more on that later).  However, as I went to check the Z height offset things were not working like it had originally.  The extruder motor was making weird noises.  No, this was not a filament jam! While you can’t see it, what happened was the wiring in the extruder motor connector had been compromised by the stress at that connector and the movement of the umbilical cord.  There is no strain relief here.  Look closely at the distance between the nylon wire wrap and the motor connector – that is how it is built.DSC01940  So as the head moves, the wires are getting bent and stressed, and the result is a broken connection.  I could actually see a tiny spark in the end of the motor connector on the left-most wire where it is attached to the crimped terminal.  While you can see I’ve changed out the larger plastic cable cover with flexible spiral wrap, the issue will come no matter what you do here – the attachment point and movement of the head will break these wires sooner or later.  My 12 hour overnight run definitely found this weakness.  I’m going to reattach the connector and figure out some added strain relief bracket to keep the umbilical cord from tugging on that part.

One last thing – the XY gantry has NO metal bearings.  Just plastic on the metal rods – plenty of grease – but this design was not meant for the long term.  Maybe OK at $349 but at $599 there are better built machines.  I will say the extruder is a huge step forward – easy to clean for one.  The shroud comes off, and another thumbscrew removes the half-plate on the left – the result is this:DSC01941  You can access the drive wheel and the lower part easily, and the extruder falls free of the drive block.  Do be careful!  I did this while it was hot to insure that I could get rid of any melted plastic along the way.  This design is remarkably clean and should perform well.  It also appears that this extruder will work with the TEM materials like Ninjaflex(tm) but that remains a test for another day.  And one other positive thing – the Z axis screw appears to be an Acme thread instead of the classic threaded rod approach, but I need to do some digging into the machine to confirm that.  Thanks to the Z probe report, I do know that my bed is more than 2mm lower in the front than the back – I plan to investigate that too.  More to come as I work with this machine.

UPDATE:  Some have asked if this machine has a cabinet filter and fan, and its amazing – it does!  It appears to have a carbon activated filter mesh, but I’ll need to dig deeper into the box.  I have it almost completely disassembled at this point, figuring I might as well do a thorough internal inspection while looking for useful enhancements.  One is the insulation on the heat bed pad underneath; in checking it I found it already was coming loose from the corners.  It is just glued on – so first I’m going to fix it with some Kapton tape at the edges.  I also recentered it – the original installation was obviously hasty.

UPDATE 2: The machine is now fully repaired and ready to go.  I added the heated bed insulation underside, repaired the motor connector wiring, added some strain relief and reworked the layout of the umbilical cord to the head.  One additional idea I had was to put a pad of ceramic wool insulation between the top of the head block and the extruder – keeping some radiated heat from getting to the upper section.  As I’ve only used the factory supplied ABS for now, I need to try some other filament and see how it goes.  As soon as I get more results I’ll post them here.

Solidoodle Press – first impressions

Well, it finally came.  DSC01930The box was in decent shape, despite its long journey from China.   I will not post unboxing pics simply because there are plenty of others out there already, though I’m in the first wave (batch of 200) that were shipped to consumers.  Thankfully I had the benefit of several others that got theirs Tuesday or Wednesday this week and posted their trials and tribulations.

The interesting thing about mine was like the old “prize in the Cracker Jack box.”  You knew there was one in there, but where? Yes, my Press had a special “prize” inside all the way from China!  As I unpacked it, I noticed a bit of tangled extruded filament at the left rear corner of the build envelope.  DSC01933But as I went to extract this obviously extraneous stuff, I heard a noise of like a piece of plastic dropping inside the machine.  Well, it turned out that they left the test print inside the machine, and with shipping, it became dislodged.  Trust me, it wasn’t easy getting it out – I had to turn the machine upside down and gently shake it.  Unlike the SD2/3/4 Brooklyn machines, this one is full of shrouds and panels to hide much of the mechanics.DSC01935  The picture to the left is when it was upside down – figured it would be interesting to show how the heated bed is constructed – and look mom, no insulation on the lower side.  That is something I plan on fixing soon.

Some early folks reported a loose extruder drive wheel set screw.  I checked for this and it was OK.  I also had some issues with the Z offset calibration process.  The machine can in fact automatically deploy and stow the probe, but it didn’t when I started the Z offset routine and the bed crashed into the head.  I always have a close hand on the power cord…. so by connecting the Press to Repetier (yes, this is easily done) I was able to lower the bed and get things unjammed.  The machine didn’t seem fazed at all by this mishap, but it could happen to anyone.  After getting the probe down manually, the offset test worked fine and I kept the factory settings. DSC01932Also, mine has the Y homing jam issue – it behaves like it doesn’t activate the switch at the end of Y travel (to the rear of the machine).  Homing the Y axis results in the gantry crashing into the rear while the motor continues to attempt to move it. So one of my investigations will be to find out what is going on here with that part of the machine, unless somebody else out there finds it first and posts it. (got it, see below – the head umbilical cord gets jammed between the head and the back of the case – another “upgrade” to do….)

Yes mine also had a messy extruder block, apparently from burn in and testing.  You’d think a small QC step would be to brush off the deposits before cooling down and packing it for shipping.

As for the Solipress software, it is as advertised – minimal control.  One thing it needs (besides getting the 10 or so posted bugs fixed) get a more obvious manual axis control.  You can send it G code – it is in the “printer options” panel.  My first build warped off the plate (just using it as received – time to get some AquaNet hairspray).  But when I stopped the build, the Z stage just sat there.  How do you get it to move downward to some usable depth so that you can access and clean the build plate?  And, there is no option to create a raft in the slic3r configuration (but you can turn on supports!).  Given the delays in getting this machine to buyers, I’d think the software would have been fairly polished and debugged long ago.

So I’ll continue to test this and let you know how it works.  Stay tuned!DSC01937 Here is a picture of the “Prize in every Box” – the stray filament (I think from the Z axis offset calibration) and the test print.  That test print, BTW, is not too well done…

UPDATE #1:  The nasty Y homing problem is actually a design flaw.  Using Repetier and manually sending some simple G code (M119 – report endstop status) I was able to confirm that the issue is not the endstops.  They are working just fine.  The problem is the large diameter cable cover to the head – it falls down behind the head and gets in the way of the gantry as it moves back to the rear where the Y limit switch is located.  The cable cover is really too stiff and large and just doesn’t stay up in the top of the chassis.  My plan is to replace it with some smaller diameter cable spiral, and fix one end of it at the rear so it stays out of the way when the gantry moves to the endstop.  This will definitely fix it.  I can move the gantry manually to the endstop so long as there isn’t the obstruction from the head cable.  I’ll update this when I have the fix in place to show you how I did it.  Also, the Z “home” is actually the Z probe, so homing in the normal sense can’t be done unless the probe is deployed before doing the homing of the Z axis.  If you don’t, crash!  The Z motor will just keep driving the platen into the extruder tip and that is not good!  So some thought to how you home the Z is in order before using some other software like Repetier (though Solidoodle has released a Repetier customization that includes the new Press).

2014 In Review: A Look Back at 3D Printing Developments

With 2014 soon to be done, it is time to write some thoughts on how much further things have developed with consumer 3D printing and scanning.  If you’ve read my past posts, in March I listed the “new crop” of consumer models announced or in progress for sale.  Here is a recap:

Fused Filament Machines (fully assembled)


3D Scanners:

So how did things turn out?  There were definitely successes and failures, as one would expect.  As for failures, MakiBox was one.  I was fortunate to have an early order that was fulfilled, but many were left with nothing for their $250 investment.  The manufacturing quality was fairly good, the instructions “Ikea” like,  but the cartesian XY system was a bad design and subject to binding or too much “slop.”  I’ve not build anything with it yet, but it does respond to Repetier and should work if I ever chose to.  However, it is in desperate need of a revision to the XY axes system.

MakerBot had tons of problems with their “Smart Extruder” system, continuing to revise it all year long.  I think the latest generation of extruders are doing better – I’m on my third one for a Mini.  Software has gotten more stable and generally works as planned.  However, the Mini and 5th Generation machines are simply overpriced (as is their scanner) compared to other units.  What will they show next month in Las Vegas (the Winter CES)?  Will there be a 6th generation that actually works reliably and allows for an ever wider array of filament options?

DaVinci released their dual nozzle unit and the AIO – a single nozzle machine with an integral scanner.  Blog reports for the AIO suggest the scanner is not much use.  In fact, speaking of scanners, the MakerBot scanner isn’t of much use either – I’ve tried numerous models and the results are rarely usable.  DaVinci has tried to beat the cartridge refill option, although it is still possible to remain on a machine firmware level that will allow this – the web has plenty of hacks that work.  A new touch screen interface for even the 1.0 unit will probably make all the current hacks obsolete, but don’t underestimate the cleverness of the technical folks out there.  The promised release of the Nobel 1.0 SLA didn’t happen as far as I can see, so we will have to wait until next year. Update:  release announced for 3d quarter 2015 at $1499 – which is pretty amazing.

Phoenix3D is more or less dead.  They have very poor reviews of their kits on several blogs.  I’ve asked for a refund of my “deposit” from March 2014 and have not received it as of this writing.  They raised their prices dramatically – probably to try and pay off their refund requests – but they are nowhere competitively.  You can purchase a fully assembled and working Davinci or PrintrBot Simple for less.

Zeepro ZIM continues to fulfill their Kickstarter rewards and also have begun to sell machines on Newegg, including filament supplies.  My machine works but I had an early failure with filament backup around the nozzles – the machine crashed somehow but continued to extrude.  I finally got this cleaned up.  A replacement to the retaining hardware for the Bowden tubes was sent, but my Bowden tubes didn’t fit the new retaining fittings very well and I crushed them too much during reassembly.  I purchased new tubing of a better fitting OD and the fit was perfect.  I need to retry this machine again – there was at least one firmware update while it was down for repairs.  It is very quiet, nicely built, but the main limitation seems to be the web-based interface.  Wish they had gone with a Cubieboard 2 instead of the first-generation model for that part of the system.  Running slic3r on that board is a bit of a challenge – yes, the ZIM has two CPU boards – a traditional RAMPS board adapted to that system, and a web-based server running on a Cubieboard.  On mine at least I can run it on Repetier and it bypasses the internal server completely.

CEL Robox continues to sell machines into the market, but mine had some issues early on.  I actually have now built (or sort of built) some small parts but I would not declare this fixed and ready to go.  There seems to be a Z gapping problem.  What happens is this – you first go through the manual calibration process by using the software and a piece of paper to set the gap.  Once completed, you reinstall the PEI build bed.  Then before each print, the machine measures the Z gap by lowering the head into the plate until a limit switch is tripped. However, my results give a Z gap that is too low – despite confirming the gap as directed.  My first layer is smeared to the table and there are clicking noises from filament jamming – neither good.  So I put in a support ticket over a week ago and so far nothing heard (yes, that includes Christmas but still…).  They appear to have lost their best support tech and there has been little added to the FAQ section (and yes, my problem is not listed.)  While this machine is very well made and has some wonderful features (the host software is actually one of the best I’ve seen), support is slow. Update: got a reply to the ticket on 1/8/15 and they posted a solution.

Solidooodle refreshed their lineup this summer, and the surprise was a new “consumer” unit called the “Press.”  Built in China instead of Brooklyn, the first buyers were offered different tiered pricing depending on quotas.  Well, for some reason, I managed to snag the very first Press order at $349 (it is now $599).  This was promised for fall delivery, but as usual, there were delays.  And as of now, my Press is sitting on a container ship off the port of Long Beach, California, waiting to be unloaded.  The Press even comes with a new software package that appears to be on the same interface level as the DaVinci machines – pretty bare bones but functional for first-time users – the market Solidoodle is trying to reach.  Stay tuned.  I’ll be getting a review out just as soon as it hits my workbench.  This one could be the sleeper of 2015!

Which leaves me to the last one, the Cube third generation machine from 3D Systems.  A beautifully made cast and CNC’d aluminum internal frame with linear sliders all around, this dual nozzle unit is a steal at $999.  And the prints it makes are very impressive – it is just that there is no restock of filament cartridges (they are of course proprietary).  I have 5 cartridges on order from as long ago as July.  I know that they have had manufacturing issues with their plastics supplier and even as late as December I have no idea on when they might ship my orders.  So while this unit might be my every day building choice, one can’t use it without filament!  Lets hope they get this part fixed very soon for the obvious reason – no filament, no printer. Update: cartridge orders are starting to get sent as of 1/16/15

3D Scanners:

As for 3D scanners, there were some interesting developments.  The MakerBot scanner should be completely avoided – it should be priced under $200 for all it does.  The MatterandForm scanner has much more promise and the latest software release is definitely making a big difference.  A few folks seem to have hardware problems, but my unit with the new software outperforms the MakerBot scanner by and far.  As for the Rubicon unit, it is still “in production” but I expect that I should have mine sometime before March 2015.  The software for it seems to be well developed, and I have tried some earlier editions (without a scanner, of course).  But I did receive two other scanners – the Cubify Sense unit and the Occipital iPad add-on.  Both work pretty well, but don’t expect sub-millimeter accuracy.  So long as you are scanning modestly large objects (like people, statues, furniture, etc) you’ll get reasonable results.  On the other hand, engineering scanning with these models is mostly out of the question (things like gears, mechanical parts to copy, etc.).  I will be doing a comparison of these consumer offerings to some commercial scanners early next year.

SLA Machines:

It was thought that 2014 would be the year of the liquid machine.  So far, there has not been a huge outpouring of models, but there are some interesting developments.  I predict that 2015 will see much more in the way of machines that are primarily consumer oriented.  I built a SeeMe CNC “DropLit” as a beta tester – it works, although my main complaint is that there are too many light leaks and there is no lower shutter to shield the resin during idle times.  A LittleRP kit is on its way to me as I write this.  Both use DLP projectors to expose the resin, modified for close focus.  I plan on using a closeup adapter lens instead of modifying my projector.  A new “mini” SLA machine was announced on Kickstarter that uses a UV photodiode array for exposure.  Although small, it most certainly provides a nice intro to the technology.  And the Peachy Printer (another Kickstarter) continues to develop their hardware, but they are way over their initial delivery date.  Hopefully that will be fixed in 2015!


Cube 3 – Getting better and better!

The folks at 3D Systems’ Cubify have been hard at work.  Several revisions of the client software have been released since the first shipments of the Cube 3, but the most recent one, client 2.14, has improved the print quality tremendously.  I was not paying much attention to additive manufacturing things over our Thanksgiving holiday, but I did check out this blog of my friend, Tom Meeks, for any news:  If you have not visited his site, you should – he has extensive information on the Cube 2 and 3 machines as well as handy training videos and parametric modeling tutorials and much more.A010 - 20141201_071402

So as soon as I saw the post about the client update, I turned on my computer and the update was performed when I started the old client.  Added to my shelf was the “Ekocycle Cube Vase” – a flared and swirled vase model for free.  I saw that as a great opportunity to test this out.  And sure enough, the print was awesome!  I did scale it down a little to use less filament and time (and with new shipments of cartridges perhaps a week away I can’t run out before then!).

The picture above is through a DinoLite digital microscope.  These are 200 micron layers in “standard” print mode for the Cube 3.  Note they are even and show no blobs or underfill.  And the vase?  Here it is:

DSC01903UPDATE: after one more client and firmware update, I tried the two-color vase that failed in my first use of the machine.  It now printed PERFECTLY!  I’ll get some pictures uploaded but it was easy to get it done, and there were but a few stray filament pieces which did not interfere at all with the print.