Wednesday, January 16, 2013

A Bit More Detail About the CubeX

While I have not yet been able to see the CubeX in person,  I have found some additional information about the specs that may be of interest to those considering it.

I think the best way to address this new information is to start with what we DO know and work forward.  Obviously, the 3D Touch is a part of the lineage of the CubeX.  But, a lot of thought went into designing the CubeX to ensure major improvements for the user.

The CubeX Uses 1.75mm Filament

For me, one of the most significant changes is that the CubeX utilizes 1.75mm filament instead of 3mm.  I have used both, and absolutely prefer the 1.75 format.  The problem I've had with 3mm filament is that as we near the end of the spool, there is a significant amount of filament that is just wound so tightly that it really can become unusable.

1.75mm, like that used in the Cube and CubeX, is much more flexible.  So, based on my experience with the Cube, we should be able to avoid wasting as much filament due to tight winding issues.  

The CubeX Cartridges Offer Moisture Protection and Better Quality Control

I know that a lot of people are going to take issue with the fact that the CubeX uses proprietary cartridges instead of commonly available open spools.  I understand that.  Frankly, we all know that ounce for ounce, kilogram for kilogram, we are going to pay a bit more for filament.  But, per kilogram costs are not the only factor to consider when assessing value.

I live in the Mid-Atlantic and I can tell you from experience that summer's humidity is NOT a trivial issue when open filament sits around for very long.  Those of you that have read my Cube blog also know that it has been my experience that it is as easier to find sub-standard filament than premium quality filament.  Both of the factors have contributed to some frustrating printing inconsistencies.
 and clogs in the middle of a print job.  One of the reason I appreciate the Cube's cartridge design is that I simply do NOT run into those issues with the Cube.

Now, aborted prints might be acceptable for hobbyists.  But, this blog seeks to serve those that need a 3D printer to get a job done for income.  Time is money.  And, frankly, the more professional you are, the more valuable your time.  So, it doesn't take many 5 hour print jobs having to be restarted 3 hours into the print run due to humidity or poor quality filament to MORE than offset the differences in cost between spools and cartridges.

Remember, I now have two 3D printers... one relying on proprietary cartridges and the other generic spools.  And, I have become a believer in the value that cartridges bring to the table in spite of the slightly higher direct costs.  I have enough open spools that still have a significant amount of useless filament on them to fully embrace a 1.75mm cartridge.  That isn't marketing hype.  That is real experience talking.

The CubeX Offers Easier Material Handling

The print heads of the CubeX have been redesigned and, of course, filament is loaded from a cartridge.  The combined result is easier material handling.  Again, this is a "time is money" issue for busy companies that may have to change materials several times a day.  For me, the result is a better multiuser platform where several designers and fabricators need to use the same printer.  Like the Cube, the cartridges keep track of available material and alert the user so that a job does not end up being aborted for lack of material.

Possible Changes to Axon

I have not been able to talk directly to the project manager in charge of the software for the CubeX as yet.  So, I cannot tell you for sure that we will be able to turn rafts completely off as we can with the Cube.  But, since both the Cube and CubeX utilize a special glass printing surface I fully expect that we will finally be able to print without a raft if supports are not needed.

I have reason to believe that it is at least on the radar.  And, when I finally get to see the CubeX in person, hopefully in early to mid February,  it is going to be one of the first things I discuss with them.

While the two and three head machines can print soluble rafts and supports, if we can avoid them altogether, as is possible with the Cube, then that is a VERY good thing.

I am very excited about the CubeX.  But, as with everything meaningful, the proof will be in the hands on experience.  The fact that CubeX was awarded the Emerging Technology Award at CES 2013, going up against some stiff competition, tells me that I am probably not going to be disappointed.  Plus, I already had a lot of respect for the outgoing 3D Touch from personal experience.    :)

Part of my analysis will be to make sure that a not-for-profit organization that works with "at-risk" young people gets the best printer for their project needs.  I take that responsibility very seriously because we (I am a volunteer) will have to live with that decision for a long time and there are more than a few good possible choices. 

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Excellent 3D Printer Overveiw at DE Magazine

I've been a longtime subscriber to Desktop Engineering and it has been my go-to magazine when it comes to keeping up with not only 3D printing; but, fabrication of all types and, in particular, the software to drive it.

But, sometimes I miss something that I should not have.  Fortunately, I have friends that also read DE and one of them, while doing some research, found this article.

3D Printing On the Cheap by Pamela J. Waterman.

Not only is the article an excellent overview of the low cost 3D printers coming into the market.  But, they also pointed to this blog and the companion CubifyFans blog as excellent sources of information.  I am humbled and pleased.

Thank you DE and thank you Pamela Waterman.  :)

As you can imagine, I am a very happy camper!

Friday, January 11, 2013

Ceramics 3D Printing - Original Motivation

If you go back to the origins of this blog and my interest in 3D printing, it came directly out of my daughter's career as a ceramics sculptor.  The style she had chosen involved an intensely laborious process of building up layers of clay to form a basic organic shape and then carving out intricate patterns.  It took weeks and months for each piece.  Consider just how long these pieces might have taken.  

Cheryl Meeks, Amplexus
Cheryl Meeks - Fleurette
Unfortunately, it took SO long that she ended up having to abandon this particular artistic path.

Hopefully I can add... "Until Now!" to the end of that sentence.

I may be biased; but, I have always been extremely proud of not only her work; but, how hard she worked at it.  But, even so I knew there had to be a better way to turn the images in her head into tangible form and went searching for it.  This is when I stumbled on to the potential of 3D printing.

It's been a long time.  And, I knew that various people were working on it.  But, now, through Anne-Pieter Strikwerda's blog I have learned that some people with the same dream have worked hard to make it a reality.

In the first article, 3D Printed Ceramic Artwork author Robert Dehue covers the beautiful work of Unfold, a Belgian Design Studio.  He writes...
"Unfold, a Belgian Design Studio, has been experimenting with 3D printing ceramics. And with success. For their prints they used a RepRap printer which they modified so it could extrude the ceramic filament. Unfold’s 3d printer for ceramics not only harnesses the potential of new technology and materials but also projects the past history of specific techniques into the future. The printer has a great resonance with the way traditional potters handled clay, however because of its ability to produce such fine layers, new forms are possible."
I prefer that you visit the blog for the full story, so that you can explore the breadth of their coverage.  But, I will include just one of the their images for you to whet your whistle.  :)

Copyright Unfold - Used By Permission

Here is also a link directly to Unfold's Blog. The great news for me is that the platform on which their system is based appears to be the RapMan, which I already own.  If I step up to the CubeX, this means I might be able to modify the RapMan to work with ceramic for my daughter.  And, I would be one VERY happy camper.  So, I am very grateful to 3DPrint.Com for reporting on this!  THANKS!

I will explore the 2nd article in a separate post.

So, while I have decided, in the future, to concentrate completely on fully manufactured 3D printers for light industrial use, my excitement over this article just demanded a response.  :)

Thursday, January 10, 2013

CubeX Wins CES 2013 Emerging Technology Award!

It was a lot of fun watching the C/Net Best of CES 2013 Awards ceremony live feed.

That was especially true when I saw that the CubeX won the...


I have no idea when I might be able to see, and possibly test, the CubeX for myself.

When I made my first visit to see the Cube just after last year's CES, I traveled to Rock Hill.  Since I will be presenting at Hagley Museum, in Wilmington, DE where the Cube team will also be presenting, I expect to see the new Cube there.  But, I did not recognize any of the faces of the team that accepted the award for the CubeX.  And, since 3D Systems in located in a variety of locations, I have no idea where I might have to travel to be able to take a look at the CubeX and print some test objects.

But, it is something I have on my agenda.  And, when I do, you can be sure that you will get a full and honest appraisal of how it performs.  But, I WILL wait until I know that I am working with a true production model.  I want to know what users will experience as they try to use it.

In the meantime, let's just appreciate the accomplishments of the CubeX team.  Way to go!

Chris Crowly - 3D Printing Changed My Workflow

Editor's Note:  I met Chris Crowley because he and his Cube 3D printer had a rocky first  meeting.  His Cube had been damaged in shipment and he asked for some  advice.   I quickly became an admirer of his analytical skills and the  more we interacted the more I wanted others to hear from him.  Obviously, those initial problems were resolved and, as you can see,
Chris is clearly a 3D printer fan!  And, he is using his 3D printer in precisely the kinds of applications that are the focus of this blog.  So, here is Chris' first guest post.  And, he is right.  You will be hearing from him in the future and I hope you will be hearing from him many times.
Hi Everyone -

 I’m Chris Crowley, and I’ll be your guest blogger for today! I own Table Mountain Innovation, Inc.... a Mechanical Engineering consultancy specializing in medical equipment design.  

Tom Meeks and I met through “Cube” activities, and Tom asked me to describe how the Cube has changed my daily workflow.

 “Wow” is the best description!  

All of my clients are extremely impressed by the fact that they get “free access” to a 3D printer when they hire me for mechanical engineering. You see... I don’t charge any additional fees to 3D print parts from my Cube. I am not acting as a “service bureau” for my clients. Just as I might make a prototype with a rough cardboard cutout, with my milling machine, or with my silicone casting process.... I can now simply print prototype designs on my Cube and test them with my clients.

 I offer this service because the material cost is so low. Of course, I charge professional hourly fees for the concept, design, and CAD work, but now the printing comes “free”.  

The results are simple.... my product designs are better. My design cycle is much shorter. The costs to the client are lower. We do more prototyping in less time.  

I’ve used Cube parts in FDA “Final Verification” tests. I’ve used Cube parts as a 3D “master” to make a soft silicone mold, and then cast several silicone or rubber prototype parts from that tool. I’ve used Cube parts to repair existing machinery. The ABS is MUCH stronger than the epoxy-based stereolith parts that people sometimes purchase - this is critical for durability testing. The possibilities are endless.

The Cube has been great throughout. Perfect? No. There were some early technical issues quickly solved by 3D Systems’ top notch Customer Service. The surface finish isn’t as good as the $50K Objet Eden machine at my usual service bureau. I wish the accuracy was higher. I have some tricky geometry-related shrink issues. But... SO WHAT?! 

In-house 3D printing capability has literally changed my business. I am 100% certain that the Cube has paid for itself in repeat customers, just in the last few months.

Here are some great examples:  

Example #1: Replacement Spindle for Vinyl Printer

A client needed a “thumb-sized” spindle to replace a worn part on a very expensive production vinyl printer. The OEM spindle was so worn that it would occasionally DROP a 100+ pound spool of vinyl on the floor during a print job. They wrapped it in masking tape and rubber cement. When that didn’t work, the client used an old piece of sprinkler pipe, which caused the spool to jam. HP wants $900 for this part - it is only purchasable with a larger assembly. I reverse engineered the spindle and printed 3 replacements all in an afternoon. Client VERY happy! 
Example #1a: Vinyl Printer Needing Replacement Part
Example #1b: Part Location
Example #1c: Cube Printed Part next to old
Example #1d: Cube Printed Part in Place
Example #1e: Old Part for Comparison
Example #1f: New Cube Part for Comparison
Example #2: Using a Cube Printed Part to Create a Mold  

In this case, a Cube printed part was used as the "positive" for a wrist strap for a medical device being prepared for silicone molding. I’m pouring the second half of the mold, and the black “master” part is soaked in oily mold release. The strap was printed in the Cube, and the resulting molded parts will be “rubber” versus the rigid Cube ABS.
Example 2: Using a Cube Printed Part to Create Mold
Example #3: Snap-Fit Speaker Mount

I designed a production test fixture for a client, but they needed a quick solution to hold a speaker that wasn’t part of the original design. I quickly printed a snap-fit speaker mount, and we were back in business that afternoon. You can see the Cube “lime green” part near the lime green arrow. :-)
Example 3: Snap Fit Speaker Mount
Example #4:  A Clip to Hold Surgical Dressing  

Well... I’m not at liberty to disclose just yet. It is “clip” to hold a surgical dressing to the body in a certain fashion. As you know, human skin a full of sensitive nerves and tiny changes in the clip design really affect the comfort. The client and I have been working on many different designs... sometimes we print 2-3 per day. It is a magic and wonderful machine that makes this a design and prototyping process possible. That’s all for now! I’m sure Tom will have me back sometime, and I’m sure that I’ll have more photographs for you! Thanks for listening. If you want to find out more about me and my company:

Protomold Case Studies

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

A CubeX Review from

Aside from some errors in reporting the pricing, the most interesting review, so far, of the new CubeX at CES, was posted on

Of particular interest were the pictures that they've posted, of the CubeX in action.

Those of us that have to kibitz from afar for now, must be content to glean what we can from images that others post.  But, there are a few things in the gallery of images that I would like to point out.

Gallery Image #1:  The Print Area is MASSIVE

The opening image shows a person holding a globe in their hands.  The hands and the globe give us some perspective on the size of the globe.  Then in another picture, we see that same globe and the CubeX apparently having finished printing a baskeball.  The globe is tiny by comparison!
Gallery Images #2 & #10:  Trio CubeX Cartridge Observations

What strikes me in this image is that the CubeX cartridges seem beefy.  The fact that they have a handle, I hope, means that they are hefty and filled to capacity.  A big printer, printing big objects, requires lots of filament.  Also, I trust these cartridges will allow us the same ease of installing filament that we have with the Cube.

Now for the evidence... notice that only one color seems to have been used, even though three heads were available.  Does this mean that a single cartridge was used to print the massive basketball?  That took a LOT of filament!  And, note the fidelity of the shape of the basketball without supports!  It seems perfect from the image.

I failed to point out in my earlier article on the CubeX that the Cartridges are humidity resistant.  The effects of humidity on open spools of filament are well known.   It's going to be interesting to see how the cartridges solve this problem.  And, that is only going to be known after we've had a few partially cartridges sitting around for a while before using them again.

Gallery Image #3:  The Z-Axis Control Appears to be based on a Single Threaded Rod

If you look at the center, toward the back of this image, you see a single lifting rod.  I'm just guessing here.  But, it appears that all the other connections to the bed are simply for stability.  If this is true, then I am all for it.  The more threaded rods, the more potential for Z-Axis wobble.  The Cube has been excellent in this regard and I'm trusting that the CubeX will follow suit.  

Gallery Image #4:  The Touchpad is Familiar and Informative

As one that has the original Cube and the RapMan 3.2, the touchpad is very familiar and informative.  One of the things this image communicates is that naming conventions, for your parts, are going to be very important.  In this case, without even knowing what the part is, I can tell it is probably an iPad Holder ("iPadHld") that was processed to be printed in PLA ("PLA_") at .25mm ("25m").  It also tells me that the optimal temperature for the PLA of the color (Perhaps "27"???) they are using is 220C.  If the "14hr" is any indicaton, this is a good sized iPad Holder!  :)
When you have multiple choices, it's helpful to develop a naming convention that helps you know exactly how to set up the printer.

Gallery Images #7, #8 and #9: Some Samples are Amazingly Detailed and Intricate

Wow!  the detail on the cathedral is amazing!  I assume that is an example of the best resolution and, hence, the slowest print times.  But, I can put up with slow to get that kind of detail.  Take a look at the windows in sample image #8!  Amazing!  I love it!

So, here is the unknown question....  From look of it, it appears to me that no supports were required for the Cathredral.  I could be VERY wrong.  But, I don't see the tell-tale blemishes left by supports.  But, remember, the CubeX prints in both PLA and ABS.  So, this building could be ABS with PLA supports that have been dissolved.  This is something that I will definitely ask about when I see the 3D Systems people later this month at Hagley Museum.

In the meantime, I'll simply drool over that kind of capability and ponder how to save up the pennies to buy one.

 Gallery Image #12:  I Hope What I see Goes Away

Ok.  It's cool to be able to print a globe in multiple colors.  But, if you know anything about my obsession with getting the best out of my 3D printers, you'll know that I even use a microscope to analyze the quality.  But, I don't need a microscope to see that I've got some questions about the smoothness of the surface of the globe.

Hopefully, this is something that will be completely gone in the production printers.  This WAS the case with the Cube.  The samples printed by the development Cubes at last year's CES were prone to some surface irregularities.  But, I have NOT experienced that with my production Cube.  While I expect the final output to be smoother than what I see in these images, it's still worth noting so we can judge the progress as we get closer to releasing production machines.

Gallery Images #5 and #6:  Some evidence of Warping on the Base

It's hard to know what is going on in images #5 and #6.  Again, these are prototype machines in a very unfriendly printing environment.  But, it appears to me that there is some warping of the piece being printed. And, there is also evidence that there is some artifacting where the print heads reverse direction... which is common with extrusion printers.  Again, it's nothing to worry about at this point.  But, it is something that I plan to follow up on when I get to see a CubeX for myself since it is imperative that we fully understand the capabilities of the CubeStick and Glass combination for ABS.

But, what if it IS an issue?  From the design of the CubeX, I don't think it would be very difficult to adapt a nice looking addition to make it a completely enclosed print area to minimize environmental effects on the printing.

Final Thanks and Observations

I want to thank TheVerge.Com for their article and gallery.  I hope taking some time to view those images in detail has been as helpful to you as it has to me.  While I see some things that still need tweaking, the images of the Cathedral print are nothing less than stunning!  I can't believe how fast things have moved in just this past year and look forward to equally rapid advances in the coming year.

Makerbot and Afinia at CES

It may surprise some that I have not mentioned Makerbot a single time in these forums.

It is NOT because their machines don't work and, presumably well.  It's because I have had a hard time trying to figure out how to cover their printers without saying something VERY negative about their claims being more than a little annoying.

Last year, 12 minutes and 30 seconds into a C/Net video, the claim was made that "With the Makerbot you can make another 3D printer."   When I heard that, it completely turned me off toward Makerbot.

 I know that claim is a GOAL of the RepRap community.  But, let's be realistic, it is a LONG, LONG way off.  In fact, it hit me as so completely over the top and fraudulent, that I have found it has tainted my ability to trust any of their claims.  A few plastic components does NOT "make another 3D printer."

This year, true to form, they are touting the new Replicator2X as being meant for “daredevils and experimenters to explore the frontiers of 3D printing.

Come on.  WHAT are you doing guys.  People have been successfully printing in ABS for a while now.  Yes, it's more challenging than PLA.  But, even the little Cube printer, which is clearly aimed at the docile consumer market. prints in ABS.  We're noast taming lions here.  We're trying to get everyday work done.

But, the hype appears to be working among the reporters walking the floor at CES.  Otherwise, how do we explain that the Afinia, the U.S. cousin of UP!, has received almost NO coverage. 

That's too bad.  From all accounts, not only is it a capable printer; but, the company seems to get rave reviews from purchasers.  I have written to one of the CES floor reporters asking them to give us news about Afinia and I will be watching for it.

Now, back to the Replicator 2X.  I love the idea of the heated bed AND the built-in enclosure.  The design recognizes that ambient temperature and the environment in which we print DOES impact the warping of ABS plastic.  And, the enclosure seems to be nicely and compactly designed.  So, I have high hopes that the printer will actually be able to produce fine quality results, which, after all, is what all of us are looking for.

As soon as I hear any news from CES on the Afinia, I'll post a link.

Monday, January 7, 2013

New CubeX 3 Printjet 3D Printer

Little did I know, when I posted that I wanted to change the focus of this blog to pre-built business 3D printers that the first printer that I would talking about would be a bigger sibling of the consumer Cube 3D printer!

But, a surprising CES announcement brought news that 3D Systems is bringing the CubeX to the marketplace.  And, from the published specs, it looks like it is pushing the industry in exactly the direction that it needs to be pushed... high performance in an office friendly package.

CubeX 3D Printer
CubeX 3D Printer from 3D Systems
I have never seen a CubeX printer.  Nor, do I know a lot about it.  I'm learning about it just as you are.  But, I have been using a Cube 3D printer for much of the past year.  It has been a real workhorse.  So, I'm expecting nothing less from this bigger sibling.

The first, and only, video that I've discovered so far is very short and obviously by 3D Systems marketing.  But, it's worth a quick view to introduce the printer and show the build envelope potential.

The most controversial feature of the Cube printer has been the proprietary filament cartridge.  I expect that this printer, which also relies on cartridges will face the same criticism from many people.  Yes.  On, the surface it does add to the cost of printing objects.  But, from experience, using both bulk filament in a RepRap and the cartridge of the Cube, the actual cost differential is less than one would expect.  I have found the cartridge fed filament to be very, very reliable with little, or any, waste.  That has not been true of the reels of filament, where the tail ends are usually unusable.  The Cube has been a start it and forget it printer.  Again, I expect that of the CubeX.

I'm ready for a bigger printer that is also very compact and neat.  And, as you can see, the CubeX is exactly that.  All the cartridges are inside the enclosure and out of sight.  I, for one, really appreciate this feature.

So, aside from the cartridges, what do we know about this new entry into the business 3D marketplace?


The actual print envelope depends on the number of print heads that ordered.  The single color version boasts a print envelope of 10.8” x 10.45” x 9.5” (275mm (w) x 275mm (l) x 201mm (h)).  The 3 color version, as with all multi head 3D printers, has a slightly reduced print envelope of 7.3” x 10.75” x 7.9” inches (185mm (w) x 275mm (l) x 201mm (h) )  Note that the only dimension affected is the WIDTH of the print envelope.


From the FAQS we read...
Accuracy of the print is largely dependent on the geometry and orientation. Typical tolerances are around +/-0.5mm for dimensions less than 50mm and +/-1% for features larger than 50mm. If you need more accuracy, you can scale your file (either globally or locally) in your design software to account for the variance. There are no guaranteed tolerances on the CubeX printer.
At some point, I hope to set up an appointment to see the CubeX for myself.  While one of my current 3D printers can deliver the .125mm Z-Axis resolution.  So, what I will looking for is how they have dealt with any potential Z-Axis wobble.  Again, based on the fact that Z-Axis wobble is a non-issue with the Cube, I expect it to be a non-issue on the CubeX. The Z-Axis print tolerance allows for up to 1-1/2 of the selected nominal resolution. That's excellent.

But, what I really want to test is actual X/Y print tolerances.  The stated specification is +/- 1% of object dimension or +/- 0.2mm (0.008” / 200 microns) whichever is greater on the  x and y axis.  One of the things I want to test is the inner and outer (Hole & Post) fit of the same design specification.  We may still have to adjust designs for fitted parts.  But, if it's ALWAYS consistent, I will be a happy camper.

Actual Z-Axis resolution is selectable when the print file is processed and includes "HD - High-Def : 125 microns, CD - Crisp-Def : 250 microns or SD - Standard - Def : 500 microns."   Resolution of 500 microns obviously saves material when tighter specs are not required.


As one might expect, from the company that brought us the RapMan 3.2 and 3D Touch, the CubeX is able to print in either PLA or ABS.  They specifically mention a soluble clear PLA support option.  3D Systems already markets a heated ultrasonic tank for dissolving this material.

There are 17 ABS colors available...

17 ABS Colors

And 18 PLA colors...

18 PLA Colors


I've gotten very used to having a 3D printer that sports a heated print table to prevent ABS from warping.  So, I'm a little surprised that neither the new Cube Next=Generation nor the CubeX has a heated bed.  Instead, they have a glass bed that appears to be frosted.  And, in place of MagicGlue, which I use with the original Cube, they seem to be relying on something called CubeStick.  I have no idea if it is the same product with a different name.  But, I suspect that it is a different formulation.

Fortunately, we should be able to tell how CubeStick works since 3D Systems is showing both the new Cube Next-Generation and the CubeX on the floor at CubeX.  Certainly, with all those people around SOMEBODY will spot any warping and let us know.  But, again, based on my experience as a Cube user, I can't image they would take a step backward in this regard.

Well, we are certainly off to a good start on our new focus on pre-built 3D printers.  I want one.  :)

Thursday, January 3, 2013

2013: A New Year and a New Focus

It's been almost five years since the first entry in this blog.  From the start, my interest has been on seeing the realization of low cost 3D printing beyond the realm of the hobbyists looking for the "build experience".  And, for most of those 5 years, the goal seemed far, far away.

But, 2012 changed all that.  The Cube was introduced.  It represented the introduction of the 3D printer as a true consumer product.  All one had to do was open the box, perform a quick and easy setup and begin printing.  It was, to me, a watershed event.

But, the Cube wasn't the only watershed event to happen in 2012 as other manufacturers began to move beyond kits and the "build experience" to deliver the "out of the box experience.". 

Beginning with this post, the focus of this blog will be directed to pre-built 3D printers aimed at prototyping and light manufacturing.

I am most interested in moving the state of the art of 3D printing forward.  And, that means focusing on improvements in print accuracy, speed and developing new materials to be used with 3D printers.  The problem with printer kits is that the end result is as much a factor of the skill of the builder as it is the design of the kit.  It is only when 3D printer manufacturers are held accountable for the final product that their printers produce that we will see a rapid increase in the factors that will make 3D printing viable for accurate prototyping and light manufacturing.


The ultimate goal for me, in regards to a printer that goes beyond the consumer/hobbyist marketplace, is design specification fidelity.  This goal says that a part to be printed should end up being exactly the dimensions that are prescribed in the CAD application.  A printed 1/4" bolt should fit easily into a machined 1/4" nut without the user having to adjust the design to offset printing errors.

This means improvements in hardware and software.  It means completely eliminating the dreaded Z-Axis wobble that plagues so many printer designs.  It probably means more control of the flow of melted filament.  It means any number of small; but, important improvements that don't cost an arm and a leg.


I have decided to limit the focus of my journey on my quest to only those 3D printers that arrive fully prepared to begin the printing process with very little setup required.  No kits.

This narrows the field only slightly, since most of the major players and many of the Kickstarter projects are moving toward that same focus.  It will not be limited to extrusion style printers.  Liquid based systems will also be followed.  While I would not rule out the viability of a great $5,000 3D printer falling into the category of my interests, most are going to be available for $2,000 or under.  In this category there are a growing number of manufacturers.

Makerbot and Bits from Bytes are probably the best known.  But, there are lessor known offerings that seem promising to me. Among these are Lultzbot, which touts a 0.075mm layer height.  I hope to have some print samples from Lulzbot soon.  And, Lulzbot has announced a new, much larger capacity printer to be released 2013.

Depending on the outcome of a patent infringement lawsuit, Formlabs, with its remarkable Form1 printer, is also a manufacturer to watch. 

And, of course, these are not the only players that we will be following in 2013.  Who knows if or when some of the major 2D printer companies will become interested in low cost 3D printing with new technologies and breaktrhoughs.  In the meantime, we will try to examine print samples and design tests to see how the various offerings fare toward meeting our ultimate goal.