This post might be a bit outside of my usual scope of IT Operations but certainly inline with the developer/toying mindset that lends itself to my writing about things like the Raspberry Pi. If you like your toys as much as I do than you no doubt are already familiar with the recent announcement that Staples will soon be selling 3D Systems Cube 3D Printer in stores in the very near future. And again, if you’re like me, then you also bought one immediately after reading the announcement (no, I’m not big on waiting). After shipping in just shy of one week I had my printer and was ready to begin playing.
What would I print? I recently spent an exorbitant (at least given the final product) amount of money on the “necessary” tools and materials to fabricate a cup holder that would perfectly match the aesthetic of and replace the ash-tray in the center console in my Maserati (nope, they don’t come with cup holders – not mine anyway). So, I thought that would be a good project to gear up toward but first it would require some test prints, learning, tweaking, and some smaller building block projects.
After un-boxing my new Cube 3D printer I quickly fingered my way through the instruction manual, installed the print cartridge (with the provided neon green PLA cord), the printing plate (which is glass and simply snaps in with a small magnet), and booted up the printer. I hit my first roadblock – the 7mm open-ended wrench to level the printing plate was not in the box. I resolved the problem with a quick trip to Walmart where surprisingly few “wrench sets” actually contained a 7mm wrench. Nonetheless I found one and just as quickly returned home and meticulously leveled the print tray. I then adjusted the print gap using a sheet of paper as instructed and was off to select my first test.
I chose a teacup which I downloaded free from Cubify.com because I thought it would be a good test of various qualities of the final product:
- Could it hold water?
- How well will the supports handle the overhanging handle? And, how easily will they snap off?
- How well will the printer handle the build-up of the sidewalls and the curved design?
As it turns out this is probably an ideal product for the Cube 3D printer as you can see here:
As you can see it handled the overall build quite well. I was especially impressed by the accuracy of the buildup of the inner and outer walls given that the cup itself is hollow (see image 2) and how it sealed this with a nice curvature in the final layers of the print. The support structures were well placed and did their job while still allowing well distributed contact points so that they could be easily cut off (and I do mean cut, do not break) with a pair of wire cutters once complete. There were however a couple of problems:
- It could not hold water due to a small hole at the base of the cup.
- At one point the cord peeled off (about 4 layers) during the print and folded back onto the cup.
But, for a first print, I was quite pleased – excellent proof of concept, smooth finish (still ridged due to the thickness of the cord but that was expected), and overall well printed.
Test Case #2: iPhone 5 Slim Case
My second test was another template downloaded from Cubify.com for a slim iPhone 5 case. For this test I wanted to test ABS instead of the previous PLA on something with thin walls and a large base surface area that utilized a raft to prevent peeling of the ABS. This started well but the end result, while okay for a concept, was certainly not usable. It lacked the strength in the side walls and I was very disappointed with the residual plastic leftover after peeling off the raft from the base. Still the iPhone snapped into place and fit snug:
Test Case #3: Raspberry Pi Case(s)
At this point I decided to move onto some more practical applications – after all this is exactly why I actually bought the printer. I began with an ABS print of a two-part Raspberry Pi case which I downloaded from a third-party as Cubify.com does not offer these sort of “open source” projects. The first attempt was a complete failure and required that I cancel the print about 15 minutes into it as the ABS was peeling up significantly – enough that it was actually interfering with the print nozzle. In addition it was quite obvious that the cord was not fusing side-by-side so there was nothing solid about this print:
As you can see in the end result, this print was a complete failure:
- Once the peeling ABS interfered with the print nozzle cord started spewing everywhere.
- The cord having not fused left the final product in numerous pieces.
- I could not even remove it from the print plate after dissolving in water without removing the multiple, now individual pieces.
Test Case #4: Raspberry Pi Case #2
I am now on my second test with a different template – one that is much thicker yet has much more detail. I opted to re-enable rafts this time to prevent peeling of the ABS and used an excessive amount of Cube Stick Print Glue (2nd Generation). I will not know the result of this test until tomorrow as it quoted me a 16-hour print time! That seemed excessive to me but if the final product is solid and usable than that I can deal with – after all, I’m not running an assembly line. Here is the progress so far (not much but my lighting was limited and I did not want to move the printer during print):
After being very liberal about the application of the Cube Stick (glue) the printer took a couple of minutes to load the file. I wasn’t too surprised by this after considering the quoted 16 hour print time but after the last failure I opted to apply another coat of glue before the printing started in order to guarantee it would still be wet when the printing started.
This might have saved my print this time as you can see in the first image that the peeling began right off the bat. But, I waited it out and after printing the cross-section rafts then the second and third layers it flattened out nicely. Now, it’s just waiting …
I’ll post more soon but until then here are some tips I’ve learned form my experience so far and some potential tests for the risk takers out there – but note, any risks you take are your risks and I have not tried or tested the feasibility of all of these recommendations as of yet:
Tips and Recommendations
- Particularly with ABS you must use rafts. The Cube 3D does not have a heated plate (I understand that the Cube X does?) and ABS does not adhere to it well. Peeling will corrupt your design well before it is part way through print.
- If you are quoted a long print time then only apply a thin layer of glue prior to print and re-apply just before the print (careful not to interfere with the movement or touch the print nozzle while it is heating up) – you’ll have to play with the timing or perhaps I’ll get around to generating an estimated “warm-up” time for a cold printer based off of the estimated print time.
- Re-level the print plate before every print. The magnet does not seat well enough that it maintains it’s positioning. I find that I get lucky about 50% of the time but it usually requires at least a few tweaks with the wrench.
- If you notice any smearing when the print starts on the raft (it will be slightly wider and appear pressed) then cancel the print and re-level, or if it’s just on the edge you can try to increase your print gap by just a small amount.
- Check on your prints throughout – you’d rather have a good print then waste your time and [expensive] plastic on a print that is no longer usable because of a failure half-way through the process.
- Understand the differences and use the right kind of plastic – The Difference Between ABS and PLA for 3D Printing by Luke Chilson.
- It might be worth the investment and time to build an enclosure for the Cube 3D in order to maintain a more consistent temperature. I am debating doing this with an attached heat lamp (like the kind used for terrariums) in order to assist in warming the print plate as well but I’ll need to be careful not to impact the printer itself.
- I did print an adapter for third-party spools which I estimate will save up to 80% in the cost of cord but I have not yet tested (I am well aware of the chip but think I have a few work-arounds, I’ll post when I learn more).
- For usable applications (e.g. my cup holder) I will treat the final product with vaporized Acetone – I have some ideas for how to do this, perhaps even with some electric thermometers and relays in order to automate a device for this purpose. It will help to strengthen the final product as well as smooth the thick lines that this printer produces.
- Cube 3D Printer goes retail at Staples for $1,299 (zdnet.com)
- Staples to carry 3D Systems’ new Cube 3D printer (reviews.cnet.com)
- BotObjects 3D printer promises huge leap forward, draws skeptics (reviews.cnet.com)
- 3D Printers Have Officially Gone Mainstream (3dprintinginsider.com)
- Staples becomes first major US retailer to sell 3D printers (gizmag.com)
- The Cube 3D Printer, Now Available at Staples. (solidsmack.com)