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.

Cube3 – early impressions and testing

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.DSC01890

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.  DSC01891As far as I know, this is the first use of a DSC01884remote 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.  DSC01885

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. DSC01889 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.  DSC01888The 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 thesDSC01887e 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…DSC01893

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.

Cube 3d Generation – AWESOME!

Received my unit yesterday – but due to work obligations (work, yes!) I had to just leave it in the box.  However this new generation is amazing and awesome!  Ten minutes out of the box I was printing a test part (keychain fob) and a greeting (Hi!) in PLA.  The small keychain fob is the Cubify icon.

This new 3d printer has some amazing features.  It automatically levels the build plate, and automatically measures the z-height for nozzle clearances.  While there is no live feed camera, there is a very useful icon of the part being built shown on the color touch screen (and remotely via the client app).  As the build progresses, the icon turns from black and white to green like a progress bar on software installations. The nozzles are integral to the cartridge so they are replaced with a new one each time you replace a cartridge.  Users of Cube 1 and 2 machines will recognize the menu structure of the Cube 3, but now the menu top level scrolls across the screen.  Over-the-air firmware updates are now included, so you don’t have to hook it up to your computer for keeping that up to date.

The build plate is now aluminum with a white plastic coating.  Careful!  The coating seems soft but you still use Cube Glue and wow, does it stick!  Be patient and soak your part in warm water to soften the bond.  And by the way, do that in a non-steel container – the magnets are embedded in the build plate this time and they are strong!  I managed to get the build plate stuck in my square metal (iron) cake pan and removing it was not easy.

This machine is also quieter than the Cube 2 yet still makes some noise, but the level is nothing objectionable.  And the light show it puts on during calibration is quite fascinating.  Speed seems fine – a 3″ rook took 6.5 hours at 70 microns.  The result was incredible.  The layers were barely perceptible.

I’ll be updating this in the next few days with some pictures and build samples to show, but based on my first experience, this is definitely the best one out there!

CEL-Robox – Frustrating out of the box – But now much improved!

After months past the promised delivery date, my Kickstarter edition of the Robox from CEL arrived this week.  Oh wow, what a nice package and level of build! However, my excitement quickly turned to frustration, and now I have what is a cool looking paperweight that has never made a single part.

What is wrong?  The machine failed to load and purge filament.  The cause?  The head with its motor that flips nozzles and valves from side to side is dead, or perhaps the drive electronics behind it. It heats up, fan runs, lights come on, etc. but there is no extrusion. There is filament to the head.  I’m currently waiting for a response but as it is the weekend already in the UK I don’t expect any help until next week. Will update this if things change, but for now, I’m just using it as a nicely lit (programmable color) paperweight! 

Until more of these are out with users and properly evaluated, I’d avoid purchasing one of these.  At $1400 US plus shipping (post-Kickstarter price) you want something that works first time out of the box. I know one of the Beta testers – he is still waiting over a month for parts to repair his machine.  Again, another problem with the head.  My immediate impression is that this head design will be a challenge to keep working in the long term. So until this is resolved, my CEL-Robox is really a CEL-Robrick…

UPDATE: support finally answered back after the weekend, but it has been slow going.  I’ve been running a lot of diagnostics that don’t solve the (obvious) problem of no extrusion – a failed nozzle shuttle motor  and/or electronics.  I’ve suggested sending back the head for a factory inspection – if it is good (it most probably is not) then a replacement or fix at that end will solve this.   If on the off chance it is working with one of their machines, then I’ve got some more detective work to do with the main box.  But at least we will have the problem isolated by 50%!

UPDATE #2: Sent the head back by air mail to the UK and I’m now waiting for the head to be returned – they quickly checked it on one of their machines and it worked. So the culprit in this case was not the head, but my worry now is that the main board is at fault.  They are sending me some replacement head cables in the hopes that this is the problem.  Despite making some rather close inspection of that part of the system, including the connectors at the head shell itself, still this indicates that the problem is with the machine.   While I’m pleased with the level of response from their support team, I’m only a little closer to getting this to work.  And since I never got any error messages or clues from the system, I’m probably going to go to low-level continuity checks of the wiring to the head to get a resolution.  I have already invested 20 hours of debugging time with more to come.  I sure would like to get this thing to print!

UPDATE #3:  The head is back and they sent spare head cables in case something was wrong with the original parts.  So I refitted the head and powered it up – connecting the box to my computer again.  Of course the first thing I wanted to do was test the head nozzle shift – and I hit the button for a nozzle change and AMAZING — it worked!  Thing is, I had never seen this movement before in response to the nozzle change commands.  And I didn’t do anything to the electronics before this was returned, other than a firmware update that came while the head was in transit.  OK, so it is now on to giving this a try for building a part!

UPDATE #4: One more problem – I calibrated the nozzle height according to the instructions, but the head is still too low when it starts a job.  The result is a smeared first layer and occasional grinding noises (from filament getting jammed).  I’ve opened a support ticket.  I’ve not been able to make a single successful print on this machine yet, so despite what appears to be a well-engineered machine, I’m still unable to use it.  Sadly, this failure came during a somewhat public demonstration at my college, so it wasn’t a good sell for the product.

MakerBot Mini – First Impressions

Well today the Mini finally arrived.  Ordered back in late February, but given the problems of the 5th Generation Replicator, I was in no hurry.  I know I got a better engineered Smart Extruder module – one way to tell is if the module has a lot of thin fins in the cooling window (just compare to the pics on the marketing pages for the old style).

So I installed MakerBot Desktop 3.1.1 which supposedly has camera and WiFi support, along with the latest firmware for the Mini. Short answer – it doesn’t work.  Neither camera nor WiFi works for me and there is no clear explanation.  I use WPA2 personal on my router – the WiFi setup procedure seems to work (it sees several WiFi routers in the vicinity), I enter the correct password (no error message after that) but it never shows up on my client list.  And as for the camera, nothing there as well.

Auto levelling seems to work – but there appears to be a low spot on the right front of the build plate, as even the PLA raft doesn’t stick to it but warps (gosh, it takes a lot to get warped PLA on blue painters’ tape).  Something to investigate or maybe send in a support ticket.

So my first impression?  This is still a work in progress as far as the software goes, and perhaps some details of the hardware too. Sorry to say my XYZ Printing DaVinci 1.0 works better at this point and at 40% of the cost.

UPDATE:  After two firmware updates and one MakerBot Desktop update, I now have a fully functional Mini.  And WiFi and remote monitoring now work too.  Still, while I like the package, I think the overall price/performance is not great.  Why?

Rafts:  love them, hate them, you can’t turn them off.  Or at least not without hacking into the software.  Thing is, some parts just don’t need a raft – and PLA sticks well to blue painters tape.  Which, in my case, has to be two layers thick or my prints (raft included) warp off of the front of the build plate.

Layer height:  200 microns and higher (if you like), but no less.  Gosh, this makes small parts.  Smaller layer resolution would be nice.

Noise:  if you are in the same floor as the Mini in my house you know it is working.  And the second floor…

BTW the camera is practically worthless – it is more like a slow security cam feed – once every 8 seconds or so it refreshes.

I have made some quite acceptable parts despite these shortcomings.  However, the competition is at MakerBot’s heels and if they are going to survive they need to ramp up the QC (no more unwitting customer beta testing) and features/price point to make me stay with them.


Another Round of 3D printers

As summer approaches here in the US, two machines that were announced at the Winter CES event are now available.  The MakerBot Mini began shipping two weeks ago, and 3D Systems’ Cube 3 was set for late June deliveries with preorders now.  The third generation Cube claims a layer resolution of 75 microns (.003″) and prints in ABS or PLA in two materials / colors at once.   The exciting thing about this machine is the new filament delivery system, with nozzles attached to the print cartridges.  The price of the cartridges is the same as the previous Cube 2 model, but it isn’t clear if they contain the same amount of filament as before.  WiFi remote is still included but now there will be an iOS and Android control app too.Cube 3D printer

I plan on posting my personal experiences with both of these machines in early July.  The Mini uses PLA only, but you can source your own filament.  The Cube requires proprietary cartridges, but the cartridges come in PLA or ABS with more color choices.  A departure from the previous generation Cubes is that this unit changes to a Bowden-style remote extruder motor that drives the filament using an internal mechanism in the center of the new cartridge.

However, the next wave of personal 3D printers will be those using liquid photopolymers.  And again, capabilities are expanding while prices are going down.  A commercial SLA machine I know currently costs $10,000.  The build envelope is 4 x 3 x 4″.  It does not have WiFi or an internal buffer, thus it has to be in communication with a computer at all times while printing through a USB connection.  But this week, XYZ Printing announced the Nobel 1.0, to be sold for under $2500 at the end of 2014.  Here is a quote from their press release:

“Using stereolithography technology, also known as optical fabrication or photo-solidification, the print resolution of Nobel 1.0 reaches 25 microns. By improving the resin-filling mechanism, Nobel 1.0 provides a stable SLA printing quality so that users do not need to add liquid resin constantly throughout the printing process. Slightly larger
than other desktop SLA printers, the build size of Nobel 1.0 is 5 by 5 by 7.9 inches. It is expected to hit the market in 2014 Q4 at the price level of $2500 or less, making Nobel 1.0 the most affordable desktop SLA 3D printer on the market. Targeting users that are more concerned in printing quality, Nobel 1.0 works perfectly for jewelry designers, dentists, and industries that require rapid molding processes.”

 Nobel 1.0 SLA

Nobel 1.0 SL

While this technology is amazing for smaller, precision parts (like the applications mentioned above) there are downsides.  The photopolymer liquid is hazardous before it is cured, and skin contact is to be avoided at all costs.  The materials have shelf lives of perhaps a year.  Unused material must be disposed of properly – I have resorted to small disposable trays put out on a sunny day to cure.  Models must be cleaned with isopropyl alcohol to remove any remaining liquid, and depending on several factors, might need additional curing with UV light.  Also, this material is eventually degraded by exposure to sunlight, and generally has lower strength and heat deflection temperatures than ABS or PLA.  Supports are made of the same photopolymer, and thus are “breakaway” needing cleanup and removal.

I’ve amazed some of my students by taking a small cup of photopolymer and “drawing” in it with a blu-ray laser pointer.  I pour away the remaining liquid, leaving a “solid doodle” that recorded the light’s movement in the cup.  Yes, this stuff cures that fast.  In fact, heat is generated during the curing process, making for a small risk of fire if you get a large quantity in contact with some catalytic agent – so my advice is never use metal objects with these materials while liquid.

First Impressions – the DaVinci 1.0 3D printer


DaVinci 1.0It arrived just last Friday and is now sitting in my lab space – where it has made a number of successful models.  At the price it is quite amazing!  It worked right out of the box.  So here are some pros and cons based on my limited exposure to using it:

Pros: Software is easy to install, firmware updates happen quickly with no reset buttons needing pressed.  8 x 8 x 8″ glass build platform is heated, and has self-leveling software too.  At some out of tolerance condition, the user is guided to adjust the bed thumbscrews, but the unit is well marked to warn you not to adjust the bed from the initial factory settings unless prompted.  Unit is fully enclosed – top door is sensed when open but the front door is not. Well lit inside for viewing.  There is a 4-line LCD and 6 button interface with a home button. The extruder has a park position with a nose wiper and “spit” bucket for excess filament. Loading filament is easy but you do have to push a bit at first to insure the pinch roller catches it.  The machine goes into an idle standby condition after several minutes, and this time can be set in the menu.  The machine is pretty quiet – far quieter than my 1st generation Cube.   And it appears that the machine will store the current job and does not need to remain connected to the computer.

Cons: The software has a spartan look about it, but all the essential features are there. Slicing is slow, but there are a lot more options than the 3D Systems Cube client.  Four different layer thicknesses can be chosen, and the 100 micron setting does really work.  Setting profiles can be named and saved for later recall.  Currently only ABS can be used, but supposedly PLA is on the way.  Proprietary 600g cartridges are used, but at the current price, they are very competitive and even cheaper than some brands of open reel filament. The machine appears to be a bit slower than the Cube 3d unit, but works smoothly. So is it worth $500?  Definitely – this would make a great addition to a school classroom and clearly would work well for someone with little or no experience in 3D printing.

I’ll update this post with more details as we get more time with the machine.

UPDATE: After two weeks of use, this machine is doing just fine.  There have been some incremental updates to the driver software such that things like infill are now more explained.  The latest firmware (1.1.I as of this writing) adds several useful menu items, such as moving the head to enable easy access to the drip box for cleaning it out.  The only weird thing is that it insists on purging the head above the build platform at the beginning of a job, requiring a manual removal of that stray filament – or it will be dragged into the build.  Why this is happening (when it is so easy to fix) is beyond me.  Why not do that at the drip box???  But once a job has started, I feel confident to leave it to completion.  And if you are patient, the builds easily pop of the glass plate once cooled down – no need for a scraper. Given that there have been a number of early improvements to both driver and firmware, I suspect both will continue to improve the machine’s capabilities with time.

Of course, there is some debate about the chipped cartridges.  Yes, there have been hacks posted… but probably the biggest issue at the moment is just the availability of the cartridges in the retail market.  At $28 for 600g of ABS, that translates to $46 for 1 kg, and although you can get ABS filament for perhaps $30 a kg, I’ve not been all that happy with my samples of the cheaper brands.  At $48/kg, Makerbot filament has been consistently good (at least in my machines) but obviously without hacking the EEPROM you can’t refill an empty unit.

How do the builds compare to other machines?  With careful choice of parameters, I’ve produced models almost as good as a $15,000 uPrint machine.  And, the DaVinci has a bigger build volume though it is a little slower.  It definitely beats my Solidoodle 2, but my Cube 2 can make better quality sidewalls.  This may be a belt tension issue so I’m going to investigate that soon.

By mid-summer the 2.0 dual nozzle unit should be on sale in the US (it is currently on preorder in Taiwan, and they will not ship outside that area).  The WiFi enabled, Android touch panel version comes out after that.  I suspect that this model is causing heartburn in more that a few places that were selling more hobbyist-style models. There is certainly a place for those – but not for someone who has limited interest in sweat equity technology.

UPDATE 2: Yes, the sidewall problems were indeed a loose X belt which was simply fixed with a procedure that is now shown on the support page for the printer.  And with that, the prints have been really consistent.  The purge behavior is still the same, even though I’m now on the “J” firmware version and several client software versions later.  The fix?  I put a piece of 2 mil Kapton tape on the right edge  of the build platform where it purges and that solved it.

The New Crop

The Winter Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas is for technically-minded folks something like a theme park for kids.  Having experienced one some years ago, it is about the only reason I’d make a visit to Las Vegas – they can keep the gambling casinos!

If the current show was any indication, 3D printing and scanning is certainly getting more and more attention.  Despite what manufacturers think we want and the prices they hope we will pay, the marketplace will eventually sort it all out.  In the technical goods world, the model over time is clear: as the technology becomes more adopted, features expand, prices shrink.  As we are still in the early days of consumer 3D printing, this trend is just starting to show up, and I believe there will be some clear winners and losers over the next few years.

As someone who always shops for the most bang for the buck, I’ve formed some opinions on the new crop of 3D FFF (fused filament fabrication) printers.  What becomes clear is that some models are way overpriced for their capabilities.  However, one difficult to measure parameter is the true value of the “ecosystem” that the manufacturer provides. Few provide data on noise levels or expected life of extruders, heaters, etc.  My source of information comes from what the manufacturer has published and not from real life tests – as of this writing, most of these machines have been announced but not sold.  However, my long experience in this area gives me some confidence that I am close to reality.

So what machines, as of early March 2014 are on the horizon?  The 5th generation Makerbots have started to ship this week.  Cubify 3d generation machines are still not open for orders.  I have heard early April may be the time.  The DaVinci 1.0 machine, which takes the prize currently on low price and competitive specifications ($499) does used chipped cartridges like the Cube 3D unit.  At $28/600g of filament that is better than the other currently chipped consumer model.  After more than a year in the making, the Makibot A6 at $300 as a kit is now shipping [mine is currently in transit as of late March].  And don’t forget Kickstarter projects Zeepro Zim, CEL Robox, and EZ3D Phoenix are soon to launch into the consumer space!

Also, the emergence of low-cost 3D scanners is upon us this spring, with the Makerbot digitizer, the Matterform unit, and the Rubicon 3D.

Rather than give you my own impressions, here are the links to the product pages for the above.  Happy researching!  I suggest you compare things like build volume and price, material choices, the “ecosystem” offered [client software, etc.] and any warranty after the sale.  I have my favorites, but that might change as I test them – more to come!

Fused Filament Machines (fully assembled)




Zeepro Zim:

CEL Robox:



Makibox: [as of summer 2014, Makibox is bankrupt and did not deliver all orders]





Note that all three of these scanners use laser lines and a camera to measure the object and create a point cloud.  Where things get interesting is in the client software, so while the hardware is fairly easy, the data processing part is not.