Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Personal Guidlines For Testing New 3D Printers

I love testing new products and have had that opportunity many, many times.  It's been a pretty interesting journey.

Along the way, I've come up with some guidelines for myself designed to help avoid running down rabbit trails or blaming the new product for outcomes for which they are not responsible.  I thought it might be helpful to point out some of these guidelines.  This list isn't complete; but, it's a pretty good starting place.
  • Set realistic expectations
  • Avoid using old filament
  • Avoid using 3rd party filament
  • Take the time to calibrate
  • Use simple forms for first tests
  • Document with video
  • Be as clear as possible when reporting observations
  • Useful tools for analysis
So, let's take them individually.

Set realistic expectations

M3D has been crystal clear that users should opt out of early delivery if they are unable or unwilling to deal with early production issues.  3D printers are very complex products that require the tight integration of software and hardware.   Early adopters can, and should, expect some fits and starts in pursuit of perfection.   Some anomalies will only show up in the field.  And, when they do the reason is NOT that "the printer is garbage"; but. simply that an unknown issue has surfaced as new users push the limits.  Patience is our friend.

Avoid using old filament

To me, filament is one of the weak points of any 3D printing experience.  Old filament, in particular, can be so internally damaged simply through absorbing moisture from the environment that it can make even the finest 3D printers look like utter dogs.  This is one reason why I urge people to by filament in smaller reels rather than huge reels.  And, I keep filament in closed containers with desicant while being stored.  But, even with that protection I would ALWAYS exclusively use brand new filament while evaluating a new 3D printer.

Avoid using 3rd party filament

Not all filament is produced using the same standards of uniformity.  While i know the M3D Pro is built to be able to use any high quality filament, for initial testing purposes I want to remove as many loose variables as possible.  This means using a filament that is absolutely certified for use in the printer.  And, for me, that means using M3D filament for my initial testing.  This then can be the baseline as the tests branch out to include 3rd party filaments.

Take the time to calibrate

We drum into our cadets that to successfully use our tools we have to KNOW our tools.  Every single time we open a new M3D Micro printer we go through the same complete calibration drill of leveling, gapping and setting the backlash.  Only after these operations are complete can we give the printer a fair shot at evaluating it's performance.  Yanking it out of the box and immediately expecting a perfect print simply isn't fair to the printer and distorts our evaluation.

Use simple forms for first tests

Having designed and printed thousands of objects over the past half decade, I have plenty of challenging prints to throw at the M3D Pro when it arrives.  But, none of them would tell me as much as a simple thin wall 20mmx20mm box with a pointed roof or a modest 3D object that combines some common 3D primatives like spheres, cones, rectangles and holes.  These objects are small enough to be printed very quickly.  And, they are also small enough to be readily examined under a stereo microscope where Z-Axis wobble and other common issues can be easily identified and described.   Print quickly and analyze slowly.  :)

Document with video

I'm a little biased here because I was a video producer for more than a decade after graduating from college.  These days we have a variety of video tools that can help us in our quest to analyze issues with products and materials.  My own arsenal includes everything from a dedicated 3-chip video camera to a simple little $10 snake camera that can be mounted right on the chassis of the printer.  Phones and GoPro cameras are also great tools to help us communicate what we see.

Be as clear as possible when reporting observations

When we do fine issues, it's very important to try to be as clear and complete as possible when reporting our finds.  "It clogs" might be accurate; but, it's hardly helpful to support personnel trying to replicate the issue and find a solution.  Great information would include the type of filament used, the age of the filament, make of the filament, when in the printing process the clogging showed itself and if you were able to easily clear the clog immediately.  The gap settings would also be helpful and whether other objects worked with those same gap settings.

Useful tools for analysis

Those of you that have read my earlier blogs know that I absolutely love an inexpensive child's stereo microscope called the C&A Scientific My First Lab World of Wonder Scope.   There are actually several versions of the C&A Scientific children's scopes and all of them are invaluable at well under $100!   This particular model includes 50x optics as well as 20x glass optics.


Other tools that are really helpful are a digital depth guage and a set of digital calipers.  Both can be purchased at relatively low cost on Amazon and Harbor Freight has a variety of different digital calipers from which to chose.  These very helpful in measuring the actual results relative to the design software specs.  For instance, in most 3D printers holes are typically smaller than designed and posts are typically larger than designed.  The question is just how much any given printer will vary so that we can make allowances for that.

Testing and evaluating a new 3D printer can be a lot of fun if we approach it as a journey with plently of opportunities for discovery.  I'm looking forward to my M3D Pro journey.  :)


Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Exciting days Ahead! Waiting for M3D Pro.

I have been very quiet on this blog as M3D was hard at work getting the M3D Pro ready for prime time.

Frankly, having lived through some disastrous premature releases of other 3D printing products from other companies, I have been more than happy to wait for my first M3D Pro until the M3D team felt it was ready for release.

Now, don't get me wrong.  I do not expect an absolutely perfect 3D printer in the first run.  Years and years of experience has taught me that a design team simply cannot completely debug software and hardware because they innately know what NOT to do.  It isn't until a product gets into to the hands of users that things are attempted that are completely out of bounds of 'expected' use.

I am more than happy to be an early adopter of the M3D Pro.  The features that it ultimately promises to deliver are so far above those of any of the many other 3D printers I own, or use, that they more than offset whatever issues that might surface in the early days.

We love the M3D Micro.  It has a special place in our work with teachers and at-risk kids.  But, it's not a high production printer suitable for heavy classroom use.

The JellyBox Kit printer IS a high speed printer that produces beautiful prints.  It, too, has a unique place in our work with at-risk young people.  We love it.  But, it cannot match the M3D Pro as the perfect, compact 3D printer for the classroom for everyday work.  Those of you that have owned a RepRap style kit printer will understand the subtle difference.

We need a printer than can be stored under lock & key, transported easily to the classroom for class and that can be counted on to work reliably after every move.  Most importantly, however, we need a 3D printer that requires as little fuss as possible.  Our teachers and students want to print, not fiddle with a printer.

And, unless I am completely wrong, the M3D Pro is going to be the perfect printer for those challenging requirements.

We'll soon find out and I am REALLY excited about that!   

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

M3D is Doing it Right!

You haven't heard from me for quite a while.

There is a reason for that.

I have been waiting while carefully following the progress of the M3D Pro.

You see, I am a bit gun shy when it comes to the way companies roll out new 3D printers.  And, since my reputation and good will are going to be heavily invested in helping M3D printer owners, I needed to be ABSOLUTELY sure that I was following the right horse.  And, while I love the M3D Micro for what it is meant to be, the M3D Pro is a horse of an entirely different color.

I don't know if the term "Alpha" means much to you; but, as a software developer with more than 37 years of professional experience it means a LOT to me.

I know just how important it is for software (and hardware that relies on software) developers to release their products to a small group of users prior to final release of a product.  I could never get the manufacturer of the 3D printer of my previous blogs to understand that.  Thus, ALL users became Alpha and Beta testers... with frustrating and disastrous results.

But, M3D is different.  Not only have they not allowed themselves to be pushed into a premature release of the M3D Pro; but, their first tier of users will be using Alpha printers.  And, these users have been told so in M3D's latest Kickstarter update.  It is extremely important to note that M3D's latest update quite carefully explains what receiving an Alpha printer may mean to the first round of users and provides a way to opt out if users are not ready to work through some unexpected glitches here or there that an Alpha user sometimes confronts.

You have NO idea how happy this makes me.  It confirms my feelings about M3D management's commitment to ALL of their M3D Pro users.

This candor has benefits to two different groups of users.  Those who relish the idea of being an early user will be able to dive right in to experimenting and putting the M3D Pro through some hard testing.  We like the idea of helping to improve the user experience for all users.  But, there are others who don't want the potential frustration of working with a printer that has not been fully tested in the field.  And, M3D has given them that option.

I'm really looking forward to the M3D Pro arriving on my doorstep.  I know that their design engineers have done their best to move 3D printing in  major step forward.  From M3D updates, I know the production line engineers are working hard to make sure the line moves smoothly once full production has begun.  But, most of all, I know that those in charge of this company have proven their commitment to quality in how they have run this new roll-out and communicated with so much candor.

Now, I'm ready to move to the next level of M3D fun!

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Looking Forware to a Great M3D Pro Year!

2016 was a productive 3D year.  But, with the promise of the M3D Pro, this year promises to be even more productive.

But, that doesn't mean that I want the M3D Pro to be released until the developers are absolutely sure that it is ready for prime time.

That is because I lived through the premature release of the 3rd Gen Cube 3D printer.  The early days of its release forever ingrained in me that patience is a virtue when it comes to waiting for a product to be released.  The problems of early 3rd Gen Cube machines doomed the line and wasted a lot of time and energy on the part of users.  By the time they finally did get it right, it was too late.  And, frankly it was quite a nice 3D printer when all the kinks were ironed out.  Between my own and those in the 3D ThinkLink Lab, I am using 6 of them in active service

But, I do not have any doubt at all that the M3D team will not make the mistakes that dogged the Cube team.  They are too meticulous for that to happen.  And, from top to bottom they are user experienced focused.  They know that it is the user's daily experience that spells the success or failure of a 3d printing product.

Notice that I did not simply say that the M3D team was "User Focused".  I very specifically said they were "User Experience Focused".  There is a difference.

Every conversation I have with them and every communication I've read concerning the progress of the M3D Pro, tells me they understand that we, the users, want as close to a trouble-free working relationship with our 3D printer as humanly possible.  We simply want to print... not fool around with a printer.

Now, I'm not so naive as to think there will never be a need for user intervention with the M3D Pro.  After all, it IS a mechanical device.  But, the more meticulous the designers are in meeting their published goals, the less you and I will have to fiddle to finish a print.  And, that will be a first for me with any of the 3D printers i have owned or used... right on up to the professional full-color powder based printer we have in the lab.

CES

M3D will be at CES.  And, I am told to pay close attention to the news from Las Vegas.  I have no idea what it will be.  But, at the very least, we should see some major online media outlets provide some more insight into and information about the M3D Pro.  So, I'm going to keep my attenna up for any scrap of news that I can come by.

You can bet somebody will be grabbing the print head mid-build to see how well it recovers!

But, as impressive as that capability is, the real meat and potatoes I'm looking for is completely automatic leveling and gapping.  That means rock-solid reliability and I can't wait for that to be my experience with a 3D printer.

I have all the confidence in the world that the M3D team is going to deliver that in 2017.  And that is very exciting for me.


Saturday, December 31, 2016

Reflecting on a Wonderful 2016 M3D Year

Looking back, M3D gave me, The YouthQuest Foundation (The organization for whom I work.) and the cadets we serve a wonderful new chapter in our quest to use 3D design and printing to make the lives of at-risk young people richer and fuller.

By making the M3D Micro so affordable and easy to use, we were able to initiate a new opportunity for our cadets to become mentors to other at-risk young people in their own communities.  As the year is closing, we just ordered the first M3D Micros to be given to our first prospective mentors in the second week of January.

We are extremely excited about this new initiative and so are our sponsors who have committed to underwriting it.  We'll have more on that with our January 1, 2017 post!

As I reflect on the year and how much impact that 3D Design and printing has made in the lives of students this past year I am filled with gratitude.

First, there are the cadets of the 3 Youth ChalleNGe Academy sites with whom we work.  This year marked the 200th 3D ThinkLink cadet to graduate since we began.  For the first time, some of our cadets were able to print with flexible materials thanks to the M3D Micro.

Secondly, 2016 marked the pilot 3D ThinkLink pilot program with the Phillips School in Annandale, Virginia serving autism-spectrum students.   Not only did the students do well, they thrived and excelled!  This year the program will be expanded to a second campus!



One of the cool things for me was that I had actually worked with Piper Phillips more than 30 years ago when I produced a series of video documentaries for what was then called The School for Contemporary Education.  It was wonderful to renew that connection.  

I will never forget my first visit to the wonderful Horizons summer program in Hampton Roads, Virginia.  It was here that we first had the opportunity to introduce the M3D Micro to students.  They loved working with the flexible materials and were enthralled by the color changing chameleon materials.  It was here that we came to appreciate the value of creating wearable art.




I cannot even begin to fully explain how the M3D Micro impacted our program this past year.  While the printer is a bit too slow to become our primary 3D printer in the classroom, it is, nevertheless, an important tool in allowing us to better train and build enthusiasm among our instructors and permitting us to begin our mentoring initiative among our cadets.

Lastly, 2016 saw the birth of this blog after years of blogging about other 3D printers.  This blog is  dedicated to helping M3D 3D printer owners get more out of their 3D printing experience.   If this was an M3D Christmas at your household, I hope you find this blog to be helpful.  While 2017 promises to bring us the M3D Pro, we will still spend a great deal of time and effort focusing on making the M3D Micro experience a fun and rewarding one.  I love this little printer.

Between now and January 9th, 2017 I will be creating some videos for YouthQuest to help our new mentors get the most out of the M3D Micro printers they will be using to mentor other at-risk students in their neighborhoods.  I will share the links to those videos as they are completed.

In the meantime, if you have any issues or questions about your new M3D Micro, please feel free to contact me at tmeeks[at]idearoom3d.com.  I do not work for M3D; but, I am a user and a fan and I am always ready to help other users whenever I can.

As the year ends, I want to thank all of our classroom teachers and our loyal supporters for working so hard and selflessly to make this a wonderful year.

And, yep.  2016 WAS a wonderful M3D year!  :)






Friday, September 9, 2016

Help make this Blog More Newbie Friendly

The sole reason why I blog is because I have a passion for creativity and I believe that 3D printers have stoked the fires of creative thinking in me like no other technology or tool.  And, I want to share that experience with young and old alike.  In fact, I'm going on 73 but love sharing 3D printing with the young at-risk students that YouthQuest Foundation serves.  3D Printing has the affect of unleashing creativity at ANY age.

But, my years of experience can work against my goals for blogging by allowing me to forget or skip over my own struggles when first trying to use a 3D design application and print on a 3D printer.

This is where I need you.

I need you to ask questions and point out where my explanations fall short of giving you truly useful information.  I need to know where you want to go with 3D printing and what examples you would like to see to help you better understand how 3D printing my be helpful to you.

You can do this by posting comments or sending me an email found in my profile.

The 3D Application Quandary

There are many free 3D applications available to either download or use online.  Personally, I have never found these applications to be as easy, quick or capable as Moment of Inspiration (MOI).  That is why we use Moment of Inspiration in our classes with at-risk elementary and high school children.

Currently,  MOI costs $295 for non-students and $88 for educators and students.  While my experience tells me that's a great deal, I know that for someone just beginning to explore 3D printing, that can appear to be a bit hard on the budget when free applications are available.

So, I am going to explore one of the free applications to see if I can find one that is suitable to get you started;  When I create a tutorial or demonstration, I will try to use both the free application and MOI to accomplish the same thing.  That way you can get a realistic idea about the relative capabilities of the software.  It may be that the free application will be easy enough and capable enough.  I don't know because it was years ago when I first looked at the free offerings.  The free offerings may have improved dramatically in the intervening years.  I need to take another look.

One of the benefits of this approach is that at least on some level, I will also be a newbie.  And, so my struggles will be much the same as your own.  And, I hope that, too, will be helpful.

The 3D Printer Quandary

I would rather you have ANY 3D printer than not have one.  But, right now, having had years of experience with many different makes and models, this blog will be focused on 3D printers made by M3D.  There is a reason for that.  My interests are 3D printing in the home and 3D printing in education.  I am not interested in fiddling around with a 3D printer.  I'm interested in using it.

I have chosen to use M3D's 3D printers because they are designed to minimize the need for tweaking, etc.  In this regard, the upcoming Pro promises to be astoundingly easy to use.  But, 3D printers aren't microwave ovens.  Since we can use a variety of materials and conceive of a variety of designs, there is always going to be some need to understand the limitations and demands of this tool.

This sometimes will mean addressing topics that may be beyond the understanding of many readers at that point in their experience.  And, when that happens, I want you to let me know so that we can go back and re-communicate the information in a way that is more useful to you.

I cannot emphasize how valuable this feedback will be.  One of my favorite students was a young woman named Vela.  She would raise her hand and say, "Mr Meeks.  I have a situation."  That, of course, meant, "Mr. Meeks, what in the WORLD are you talking about?  You have completely lost me!!!"

Not only was her willingness to let me know she was lost helpful to her.  But, it was helpful to me and every other person in the class.  I cannot thank her enough for how she shaped the curriculum that has helped so many other at-risk cadets and young people.  And, it is the first story that I tell to each new class.  It brings to mind a phrase I learned in college 50 years ago from an educator that I greatly admire.
"Where there is no learning, there has been no teaching."
                                               Dr. Wesley R. Willis.
And, that is also true of blogs.  :)



Thursday, September 8, 2016

M3D Live Streaming Event on KickStarter

Today, September 8, 2016 at 8:00PM, M3D will be testing Kickstarter's new Live Stream capabilities to communicate directly with people interested in hearing about their new Pro 3D printer.

I don't exactly know how the streaming, which is in beta, works; but, there is a sign-up for participating on M3D's KickStarter Page.

It's an excellent opportunity to ask questions of the M3D team.