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Posted by on May 6, 2013 in Reviews |

3D Systems’ CubeX Duo 3D Printer Review

3D Systems’ CubeX Duo 3D Printer Review

Check out my previous posts of the CubeX Duo

Click here for my follow up of the CubeX

Click here for ABS printing / first parts for customers

After months and months of researching, debating, more researching and finally waiting,  it’s here.

The printer has arrived!

The printer has arrived!

 

The shipping weight is right around 80 pounds and the box is rather large, so this is not something you can just muscle around.

 

Unpacking and First Impressions

Unpacking the printer and accessories went fairly smooth.  There’s a large ‘quick-start’ guide that I always look for when unpacking new products.  Each step is easy enough to follow, lift unit out of box, snip zip ties securing shipping foam, plug in unit, etc…

Quick start instructions to get you going.  Maybe unnecessarily large, but fairly clear and helpful.

Quick start instructions to get you going. Maybe unnecessarily large, but fairly clear and helpful.

3D Systems' CubeX Duo printer just after being removed from shipping box.  The top cover is not in place yet and the shipping foam is still in place on the build platform along with other misc. packing material.

3D Systems’ CubeX Duo printer just after being removed from shipping box. The top cover is not in place yet and the shipping foam is still in place on the build platform along with other misc. packing material.

 

After removing the printer and setting it on it’s table, I begin to remove the last of the packing foam and material.  At first glance everything looks pretty well thought out, a very ‘finalized’ design, if you will.  As I’m putting in the build plate (which is VERY necessary and not clearly noted, more on this later), I notice that the 1/4″ aluminum plate that the build plate sets on is fairly scuffed up.  Nothing that would seem to affect performance  but just visually, it looks like it’s seen better days.  I work as an engineer in a precision sheet metal house and we would never let a part leave the building looking like this.

Close-up of damage to the aluminum plate that the build plate sets on.

Close-up of damage to the aluminum plate that the build plate sets on.

When I see things like this, it always makes me wonder if a quality control process is involved and if it is, how does one ship something like this out with a good conscience?  On one hand, will it affect performance?  No, probably not.  Can you even see it with the build plate in place?  No, not really.  But on the other hand, a thought is triggered that asks, “what else have they let slide?”  Answer:  at least two other things that I have noticed.

The second is another smaller problem that doesn’t really affect print performance, but it will drive you nuts when printing.  While printing a smaller object the extruders were moving very quickly with short extrusion paths.  The actual motors aren’t offensively loud during normal printing, but there was a rattle coming from the printer that seemed out of place.  Upon further inspections, I found that if I put both hands on the sides of the printer the rattles stopped.  I then found there are eight allen bolts that secure the outside covering to the metal internal structure.  Six out of the eight bolts were loose enough for me to tighten with my hand and to allow the covering to rattle.  Again, not a major fault, but makes you wonder.  All bolts were tightened using an allen driver that was included in a accessory tool kit very quickly.

The third problem that caught my eye is driving.  Me.  Insane.  On the front panel, there is a white plastic, adhesive-backed piece that contains a soft-touch button and the LCD.  It’s the second most noticeable feature on the printer after the windows that are cut out so you can see the build plate and model.  As someone who is a self-proclaimed expert phone screen protector/sticker applicator, I almost can’t take it.

Notice the gap on the right between the white face and the translucent frame, and the overlap on the left side.

Notice the gap on the right between the white face and the translucent frame, and the overlap of the white plastic piece on the translucent trim piece to the left.

The white panel was applied incorrectly and now overhangs the translucent frame on the left-hand side, while creating a gap on the right-hand side.  While the picture may not do it justice, it’s very noticeable in person.  I do believe 3D Systems has a great product here.  However, that doesn’t mean they can let the small details go.  Without trying to seem too condescending, the frame creates a template for the white panel to be located.  Line up the top edge, let the panel adhesive begin to touch, recheck the side edges and adjust, then apply the rest of the panel.  Should be simple.  I’ve seen two guys apply a 28 foot-long decal on the deck of a power boat with amazing precision.  This should be almost impossible to mess up.  Almost.  If I was sure I wouldn’t deform the panel or ruin the display, I would remove that panel and redo it myself.  Mis-aligned anything is a huge distraction for me.  Between this and the scuffed metal plate, there has been some disappointment on the finish of this printer.  I spent the extra money over the MakerBot and other higher end 3D printers thinking that this would trump them all in terms of fit and finish.  I have not seen any of the other printers in person so I can’t say one is better than the other, but things like scuffed and scratched parts and crooked pieces can leave the door open for other manufacturers.  Hopefully my problems are simply due to being released so early in it’s production- my printer was in the second batch of printers released from the factory.

[UPDATE]

Shortly after this post was written, both Source Graphics and 3dSystems we able to get me situated. Apparently on this second shipment of printers, they discovered that the build plate was coming loose during shipping and damaging the build platform (the metal plate that the removable build plate sets on) as well as itself. They have informed me that they have noticed the problem and are putting additional ties/fasteners on these parts to prevent further damage.  If I wished, I could trade in my damaged build plate to 3DSystems for a new one, however, because it’s basically an aesthetic problem and I don’t want the down time of not having a build plate, I chose to stick with my original.  Customer service from both Source Graphics and 3DSystems was favorable, with a special hat tip to Brent at Source Graphics for spending well over a few hours on the phone with me answering my 100’s of printer questions.

[UPDATE]

3D Systems includes a few extras with your printer that were unexpected, but appreciated.

Included tools and accessories for using and maintaining your CubeX 3D printer.

Included tools and accessories for using and maintaining your CubeX 3D printer.

Included in the handy foam-lined case are:

  • 3 allen head tools for the various bolts on the printer
  • a pair of snips for removing supports and extra material from your model
  • a pair of needle nose pliers for removing extra material (I’ve also used them to get stray pieces of plastic that have come loose during printing)
  • a scraper to facilitate removal of your model from the build plate, and to scrape any extra material from the build plate that may stay behind
  • a wrench to adjust the bolts that adjust the attitude of the build plate
  • sandpaper for scuffing up the build plate surface
  • a 2GB usb drive for transferring your build files from your computer to the printer.  It also come preloaded with the Cubify Invent 3D modeling software and user manual.
  • drill bits to help remove material in the extruders should they become clogged.
  • a card that includes your registration number to activate your Cubify Invent software

There are also two 2.37 fl oz. (70 mL) bottles of adhesive with foam applicators.  The adhesive is put down before printing begins and is supposed to help the very important first layer of plastic adhere to the build plate.  If you mess up this layer, the rest of the model could be ruined so it’s important to have a nice, accurate first layer.  It’s a good idea in theory, I’ll describe my experience later in this review.

I’ve heard people make a big deal about having to register your CubeX with Cubify on their website.  I say, “who cares?”  It took less than five minutes and was not a hassle at all.  Once your account is created and your printer is registered, it provides you with your printer device, serial number, the day it was manufactured, and the day you activated it.  Your Cubify account will also keep track of your model uploads and downloads, as well as any outstanding orders you have.  I could survive without all this, but it’s a neat supplement.

First 3D Prints

One very important thing that I believe does not have enough attention drawn to it, is that you must have the build plate installed before moving the build plate assembly, either in a program or manually. There is a magnet that is embedded in the removable build plate that is used to stop the plate before it runs into the extruder heads. Without this plate, there is nothing that alerts the printer that the build plate is going to strike the extruder. Always have the build plate in place when moving the build plate assembly up or down.

After reading through most of the instructions, I felt I had a good idea of how to print a part.  While this is my first 3D printer, and this is my first print, I have been having parts printed for years as well as researching the different printing processes during that time.  My first part was a small connecting arm for an iPad mount that’s about 2″ long and 1″ wide at the widest point.  As per the instructions, I put down 3 layers of glue, uploaded the file to the printer and let it rip.  It was less than successful.  The first layer didn’t adhere to the build plate and all and just started dragging.  After numerous attempts varying the part size and glue amount I called support.  They recommend that I adjust my z-gap distance.  Z-gap is a setting that controls the height of the extruder head from the build plate during the application of the initial layer.  It is noticeably smaller compared to the layer thickness used for the rest of the model.  I used a few different techniques and the one I found that works best is to narrow the z-gap by moving the build plate up and sliding a piece of paper around under the extruder tip.  After the paper first grabs, increase (as in move the build plate lower/away from the extruder) the z-gap by 0.15 mm.  The manual says only 0.1 mm, but just from what I’ve experienced, the that extra 0.05 mm made a difference.

My first tall print was the Water Tower replica that 3D Systems supplies as a demo file on the ‘fine’ resolution setting, which is a 0.1mm thick build layer.  Aside from a few stray threads of plastic, the model turned out pretty nice.  The smaller details turned out great and are clearly visible in person.  I was worried leaving it over night because it was a 10+ hour long print and I felt I felt the need to monitor it, but it turned out great.  With future over night prints I would not be so lucky.  However, 3D Systems has included a cool feature that, to my knowledge, is not found on many other printers.  The CubeX can actually pause the print job.  This allows you to go eat lunch, possibly check a feature you might be unsure of, or of course pause it for the night.

 

The Water Tower replica that is supplied by 3D Systems.  This was a 10 hour print on the highest resolution.

The Water Tower replica that is supplied by 3D Systems. This was a 10 hour print on the highest resolution, which is 0.1 mm layer thickness.

 

My next model was a bit more ambitious.  My previous position was a design engineer at a boat company called MTI.  They build high speed offshore catamarans with big power, but I’ve always had an affinity for the old wooden runabout ‘barrelback’ hulls (and anything really) from around the 1950’s.  In my free time I designed this 38 foot single stepped v-bottom in full scale using Solidworks.  I’d been itching to test this out as a 3D model but as with any manufacturing process, a few minutes spent planning in the beginning can save you a lot of time in the end.

Because this hull has a V shaped running surface, the print would require supports all along that surface so that the material doesn’t sag as it’s being extruded. This is not necessary with every surface that widens as you go up, but this did need them. I believe if the surface is slanted ~50 degrees or more away from vertical, supports will be added by the Cube software automatically. If you use PLA and ABS in your printer, you can use one for the model material and one for the support material and they should break away clean.
Screenshot of my 38' hull I designed in Solidworks.  It has enough room for twin staggered SCi motors from Mercury racing, BPM shaft drives, and a rudder.  Not your usual equipment for a boat with this styling.

Screenshot of my 38′ hull I designed in Solidworks. It has enough room for twin staggered SCi motors from Mercury racing, BPM shaft drives, and a rudder. Not your usual equipment for a boat with this styling.

As is typical in boat manufacturing, I split the model in a top and bottom half (hull and deck).  This allowed me to build the hull upside down so no supports were needed, while also providing more surface area to be on the build plate.  Keeping your first layer adhered to the build plate is critical in all models, however, maybe more so with larger models.  Future plans include scaling the model so that the hull and deck are printed in separate sessions so each can use as much of the build plate area as possible, and also laying the halves out diagonally.  Hopefully that will result in a 12-14″ long model.  Not bad.

Screen shot of 3D System's included software that generates the extruder paths.  Fairly easy to use, graphics could use some upgrades.  My main problem is that only zoom and rotate are possible, no pan.  So if you have a part that is on one of the edges of the plate and you want to zoom in on it, certain viewing angles may not be possible.  As a professional CAD user, the missing pan ability is pretty annoying.  You can also see some of the support 'posts' the hold up areas around the cockpit opening and windshield.  These are cut away after printing.

Screen shot of 3D System’s included software that generates the extruder paths. Fairly easy to use, graphics could use some upgrades. My main problem is that only zoom and rotate are possible, no pan. So if you have a part that is on one of the edges of the plate and you want to zoom in on it, certain viewing angles may not be possible. As a professional CAD user, the missing pan ability is pretty annoying. You can also see some of the support ‘posts’ the hold up areas around the cockpit opening and windshield. These are cut away after printing.

The software the generates the path for the extruder is fairly simple and straight forward.  When positioning the model on the build plate, the software will let you know when the model is outside the boundaries of the extruders by showing a box on the build plate.  Once the model is sufficiently inside that boundary, it disappears.  Models can by rotated around all three axes, but the software will not tell you the best orientation.  By that, I mean it will not tell you how to orient your model to minimize the number of supports or to minimize the stratus lines that can show up (as shown on the model in the screen shot above, ahead of the cockpit/windshield).  As you can see, the software will tell you part size and location on the plate (the model has to be selected for this to show), what materials you have loaded in your printer, selected layer thickness, mass of finished model, and estimated time to build the model.  I’ve found this to be somewhat accurate, the actual build time is about 10-15% longer than the estimation.  After you select to have the path generated, a window will pop up and tell you exactly how much of each material is used, and then also the total amount which is later listed on the left margin as shown.

After I applied what I thought to be the correct amount of adhesive to the build plate, which is not that much, I loaded the file from the thumb drive and told it to let ‘er rip.  The raft went down almost perfectly, one or two paths were a little askew, but nothing to throw the print off.  After the red PLA material went down, it was time to start printing the actual model in the white PLA.

On my printer which is a CubeX Duo, my first extruder works great.  My second isn’t quite lined up correctly and has to be monitored when if first starts printing.  There is a mechanism in the back right of the printer that is meant to knock of residual material from the extruder tip before it begins printing.  Like I said, the first extruder works great.  The second extruder actually sets on the scrubber mechanism instead of behind it, like it’s supposed to.  These causes the small amount of material that’s extruded right before it begins the actual print to build up in a thick puddle and can sometimes pull the raft material up, or randomly come loose during a print and then mess up the model.  As of now, my current solution is to let it knock against my metal ruler as it leaves the scrubber.  After that, it prints fine.  I haven’t had time to call support and ask how to remedy this, but I’m sure they’ll be able to get me going.

I have the printer setup at a table in my office that’s about six feet from my desk at work.  I try to get a print started before my regular start time then let it run while I do other things.  Motor noise isn’t terrible, but I wouldn’t say it’s a quiet machine.  The main time it’s loud is when the extruders are moving at a high speed, normally when switching areas of the build plate, or starting a new layer.  It’s fairly quiet when it’s actually printing.  Two people could hold a conversation at a normal volume while it’s running, but it’s not ideal.   It gets pretty bad if you’re manually moving the extruders or build plate.  I try to keep that to a minimum during normal business hours, or have my door shut.

Back to my hull print…

Success!  Just over six hours in print time at medium resolution, which is a 0.25 mm layer.

Success! Just over six hours in print time at medium resolution, which is a 0.25 mm layer.

Fresh 3D printed hull and deck still on the build plate.

Fresh 3D printed hull and deck still on the build plate.

In the picture above, notice the small ‘posts’ that help support the deck around the cockpit opening.  The same support is used underneath the windshield as it curves backwards.  The filament became a little detached toward the top middle of the windshield, but other than that, it came out great.  This model was about 9 inches long and was printed with the ‘medium’ resolution, which is 0.25 mm thick layers.  The ‘coarse’ setting on the printer is 0.5 mm thick layers and the ‘fine’ is 0.1 mm thick.  There are also four different options for a fill inside your model.  You can choose “None”, which means aside from supports that will be removed, the model is hollow.  There are three others that range from “Thin”, “Medium”, and “Thick”.  If your model needs some structural support, you can choose to have it filled with a pre-loaded fill pattern to help increase stiffness and strength.

3D printed scale hull and deck parts, fresh out of the printer and partially free of the extra raft material.

3D printed scale hull and deck parts, fresh out of the printer and partially free of the extra raft material.

The stratus lines on the deck are fairly visible in this picture.  One thing I would like to see in the CubeX’s print software is an option to choose the direction and orientation of the layers.  On the hull, you can see how the stratus lines (or build lines) go along with the length of the hull fairly well because of the drastic changes in height along the hull.  On the deck though, the different layers are very noticeable because of the very subtle changes in height.  I would like to have the extruder run length-wise on the deck rather than in loops.  I believe this would avoid the ‘iso-line’s that look like different pressure zones in a weather forecast.  One way to remedy this is to print  the model at a thinner layer thickness (higher resolution).  Another option I found on the internet is to submerge the part in acetone for a few minutes.  The acetone will ‘melt’ the ridges on the model and should help to smooth the surfaces and provide a glossy finish.  I have only read about this and have not tried it.  I’m also not sure how you handle tolerances if your part requires precise dimensions.  Another variation involves heating a large jar or container with acetone it with a hot plate with the model suspended above the liquid and allowing the fumes to do the work instead of the liquid.  This is obviously something I do not recommend and should be attempted in a well ventilated area free of open flames.

[UPDATE]

Acetone polishing only works for ABS material. For PLA, as shown above, caustic soda (NaOH, aka sodium hydroxide) is used.  Both substances are abrasive and can be dangerous when handled.  Proper eye and skin protection should be used at all times.

[UPDATE]

This hull model was just printed three days ago.  My next order of business is to sand away the raft material so the two halves can be joined together flush.  I’m unaware of a better method to separate the material, and this will be a question in my next email to support.

Lastly, if you try and buy the printer from Cubify’s website, you’re going to overpay by hundreds of dollars.  This is because they’ll be shipping directly from Europe, and you’ll be paying additional taxes.  I recommend calling Brent Pedersen at Source Graphics in California.  Going through them saved me over $600 and he was very helpful in answering my questions both before and after the sale.

If you are reading this and are interested in having me print a model for you or your company,  you can contact me at design@tomnuessen.com.  I can send you a full rundown of print pricing and, if needed, CAD pricing as well if you do not have access to software to create your model or are not able to model it.

Please check back for updates regarding new developments with my CubeX Duo, new models, new techniques, new problems, and new solutions.  Also follow me on Twitter @TomNuessenCAD!

Thanks for reading!

-Tom Nuessen

 

As I mentioned above, check out my update posts of my CubeX Duo

Click here for my follow up of the CubeX

Click here for ABS printing / first parts for customers

 

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