Saturday, April 29, 2017

M3D Micro/Pro Software - Print Manager Page

Version V1.7.0.71 - ALPHA

At the time of this writing, v1.7.0.71 is in the Alpha stage of development.  Current Micro users may want to wait until the software is either in Beta or Full Release.
There is no label that officially identifies the page we are going to discuss in this post.  But, Print Manager Page seems appropriate. 

M3D Print Manager Page
Notice a major upgrade to this page in this new version. We see 9 convenient tools parked at the left side of the screen.  In the previous version of the M3D printer software, there were only 3 such tools.  

But before we get to those, let's examine the most used buttons at the bottom of the screen and to the lower right of the screen. 


Primary Print Manger Buttons

The most used button in this group is the Print button in the center of the group.  It simply starts the printing process.  To the left of the Print button is the Reset View button that returns our viewpoint to the front view.  To the right of the Print button is the Center Model button that allows us to quickly center the currently selected modelIt does not center the entire model group if there are more than a single model on the print table.

The Back to Library button is found to the right and toward the bottom of the screen.  It look like this:
Clicking on this button takes us back to the Library Page.  Because we can Open a Model from the Print Manager page, the only reason for needing to go back to the library is if we want to load an item already in the library onto the print plate.


Now we can turn our attention to the new toolbar docked to the left side of the screen.
The object to be printed in the above sample really doesn't lend itself to demonstrating the full power of these tools.  So, we will bring in another that starts out by being too big to print.  To do so we will click on the "Back to Library" button at the bottom right sode of the screen and select a different model from the Library.  Then we will click on the Printer image to return to the Print Manager Page.  The result is this:

M3D Print Manager Page - Model Too Big
Notice that this time two walls are bright orange in color.  This means that the object extends past the edge of the print plate and needs to be resized or reoriented before it can be printed.  Let's examine each tool to see how they might or might not be able to help get this model ready for printing.

The MOVE Tool

To move or relocate a model on the print table we click on the following tool icon.

Move Button
Clicking on this icon brings up a second dialog having "X" and "Y" values.

X & Y Value Set Dialog

By changing the values in this dialog, we are able to move the object left to right ("X") or back to front ("Y").  In the case of this object there is no problem current issue with the "Y" location and because the object overhangs both left and right edges, we cannot solve our issues by changing the "Y" values.  So, we can click on the Move Button again to remove the dialog.  We may come back to this later.


To resize an object we click on the following tool icon.

Resize Tool
When we click on this icon, a second dialog box is displayed enabling us to resize in three dimensions... "X", "Y" and "Z".

XYZ Resize Dialog
There is a checkbox in the center of the dialog box.  When this is checked all the values change with a single value is changed.  When it is not checked, the values can be set independently.

Clearly, using this tool could seem to solve our problem.  In fact, if we lower the values to 93% (0.93) we see that the object is within our print limits.  There are no highlighted areas!

Size reduced Until Part Fits

However, since this part is designed to interface with other parts even a small 7% reduction might be too much.  Since our issues are with the X dimension, we could unlock the values and only set the "X" to 0.93.  But, for now we'll take all the values back up to 1.00.  We'll try one more thing before resrting to resizing.  Click on the Resize Tool to remove the dialog.


To rotate an object we click on the following tool icon.

Rotate Tool
When we click on this icon, a second dialog box is displayed enabling us to rotate in our model around three axes... "X", "Y" and "Z".

Rotate Around X, Y or Z axis dialog

In almost all cases, it is the "Z" axis that we want to rotate around.  Altering "X" and "Y" can often result in the part needing supports where no supports were required in the original orientation.  However, it is sometimes necessary if the model was designed so that it is brought in having an orientation that would not print well without supports. 

In the case of this model, it turns out that rotating the model -85 degrees orients it in a position where all the object fits in the print area without having to resize it.

Rotating -85 degrees fits the object on the print table
This is a far better solution than resizing the object would have been.  Click on the Rotate Tool to remove the Rotate Dialog.

This is the first of our additional tools in this new version.  We can load multiple models into the Print Manager.  This tool helps us select which model we want to manipulate with the tools we've already discussed. To access a list of the available objects we click on the following tool icon.

Model List Tool
Before clicking on the Model List Tool button, we'll bring in multiple models as in this sample.

m#D Multiple Models in the Print Manager
To help us see the three individual models a bit better, we'll hold down the left mouse button and move the mouse to rotate to a top view of the print plate.

Multiple Models - Top View
Note that several objects are highlighted with a colored edge.  A single model can have multiple parts.  In this case, the shark model includes a shark ring, a swimming figure and a sign.  Clicking on the Model List Tool brings up a list if the models in the Print Manager.
Model List
Interestingly, even though the shark was the active model when I first clicked on the Model List Tool button, it was not originally highlighted as expected.  This is most likely due to the "ALPHA" status of the software.  The above image was grabbed AFTER I manually selected the shark using the list.

Only one model can be selected at a time.  So, to fix the fact that the shark model is outside the prinar tab;e boundaries, we have to select each of the objects and move them individually.  The next three images demonstrate this.  You can click on the image to make it larger.

Selecting Models from the List and Moving them indiidually
You can also select models by cliking on them.  But, the selection, for now, is not reflected in the Model List Dialog.


Sometimes it is convenient to load multiple copies of the same model into the Print Manager.  While repeatedly go though the Import process, it's much easier to simply select the object and click on the Duplicate Selected Object Tool which adds another copy instantly.

Duplicate Tool

Remember, this software is currently in "ALPHA" status.  But, when the duplicate object is brought in for now, it will most likely have to be moved as you can see from this image.

M3D Duplicated Model
I expect that eventually the original model will be automatically moved to make room and the new model will be placed so that no additional relocation is required.  But, for now it's easy enough to manually move things around.  I'm just thankful we now have a quick way to duplicate objects easily.

There is one thing that should be mentioned in a discussion of choosing to print just one object many times vs. duplicating the object and printing once.  Every object you add to the print plate increases the chance of failure.  If one part fails for any reason the whole print job is ruined.  Therefore, one must know one's printer very, very well before starting a long print job with duplicated parts.  Sometime I make that choice; but, most of the time I deem it wiser to print a single item at a time.  In generally, either method ends up taking about the same overal amount of time.


To delete the currently selected model click on the Delete Model Tool Button. 

Clicking on this button deletes the currently select model.  To delete multiple models each has to be selected and deleted individually.


The UNDO and REDO tools behave in a typical Windows or Mac style.   The UNDO Tool Button looks like this.
And the REDO Tool Button looks like this.

UNDO takes one step BACKWARD in the action queue each time it is clicked.  The REDO tool just just the opposite.  It moves FORWARD and restores actions removed by UNDO for each click.  So, you never have to worry that you are going to make a serious mistake or loose a model by accident.  That's nice to know for peace of mind.


The Save Successful Print button looks like this.

OK.  I'm going to have to get back to you one this one.  Because, I don't know if you have to get through a print before using this one or not.  When I try it, it seems to save a fike with the .ZIP suffix.  But, I can't seem to find the file.  Again, this IS an ALPHA release.

So, there you have it.... the Print Manager page in the new version ALPHA.  I don't know about you; but, I like the added convenience of the new left side toolbar options.

Friday, April 28, 2017

M3D Micro/Pro Software ( ALPHA V1.7.0.71) - Library Page

With the introduction of the new M3D Pro 3D printer, M3D has also introduced a new ALPHA version of their client software. The great news is that it works with both the Micro and the Pro. However, because it is ALPHA software, existing Micro owners may want to wait until it matures a bit before upgrading. It did overwrite my previous M3D software instead of being installed as a separate item. 

While much of the interface will have a familiar feel for earlier M3D users, there are enough changes and improvements to make a significant difference in how easy it is to use our 3-D printers. Since I do not yet have the Pro, we’ll examine the software using a Micro. We’ll have to examine the features specific to the Pro in a later post. 

When using the any M3D software for the first time with a brand new printer, a dialog will pop up reminding users to remove the gantry clips that kept the printer safe during shipping. 

M3D Gantry Check Dialog
If printer has already been used with this software, the dialog will not come up when the application is started. 

This is the opening or "Library" screen if no models have been previously uploaded. 

M3D Alpha v1.7.0.71 Opening Screen
At this point, it is the same as the previous version of the software.  From here, beginning in the upper left corner, we can:
  • Launch the Add/Remove 3D Ink dialog
  • Launch the "Open a new 3D Model" dialog
  • Identify the currently selected printer 
  • Launch the printer selection dialog
  • Launch the Settings dialog 
  • Launch online help
  • Search for recent models
  • Load recent models into the Print Manger
  • Load recently printed model into the Print Manager
  • Remove recent models from the Library
  • Launch the Print Manager
Let's examine each of the above individually.

Launch the Add/Remove 3D Ink dialog

When the "3D Ink" is clicked, the "Manage Filament Page" dialog will pop up that allows us to load or unload filament ("3D Ink").  

M3D Manage Filament Page
One of the nice features about this page is that in case the software has not correctly assessed the current filament situation, there is a "CLICK HERE IF NOT CORRECT" option.  For those of us that travel with our 3D printers, this is a handy option.  Often, after a demonstration or class is over, we don't take the time to completely unload filament before putting the printer in its travel case.  We simply cut the filament about 4 inches above the print head.  This can fool the printer when we try to use it the next time.  

We'll cover filament loading and unloading in a future post. 

Launch the "Open a new 3D Model" dialog

When "Open Model" is clicked, a file finder dialog box is opened that shows supported file types.

M3D - Add Model Dialog
The supported file types are .STL, .OBJ and .ZIP.  Obviously, the selected zip file should contain either a .STL or a .OBJ file.  If our view settings for files are for small, medium, large or extra-large icons then the appropriate files will be shown with the M3D icon as in the above sample.  Selecting a file will load the file in the Print Manager and display it on the Library shelf for quick access in the future.

If there is already a model loaded into the Print Manager, the option to remove it or keep it and add the new model is presented.

From there we leave the Library and are taken to the Print Manager screen.

Identify the currently selected printer 

If an M3D printer is attached and selected, its serial number will be displayed along the top of the screen.  Otherwise, the message will say, "Not Connected".

For now, all M3D printers must be connected via a USB cable.  But, this is expected to change in the future.

Launch the printer selection dialog

The M3D Software allows us to select from multiple M3D printers.  If more than one printer is connected to the computer by USB cable, it will show up in the dialog.

M3D Choose Printer

In this case, we have 2 orange Micro printers and 1 clear Micro printer from which to choose.   Simply click on the printer's image to select it.  We rarely have more than one M3D Micro connected to any given computer.  But, we expect this to change with the high production performance and offline running capabilities of the new Pro.

Launch the Settings dialog 

Clicking on the little gear icon just to the right of the printer identification area launches the Settings dialog.
M3D Settings Dialog

The Setting dialog options are far too rich for us to delve into them now.  In fact, we will have to break down the options into several posts to cover them with any justice.

We can point out that there is a new tab on this page with the title "Pro/Micro+ Features" that is not accessible unless a Pro or Micro+ is attached.  So, the features will have to remain a mystery until we actually have one or the other.  

This is the first hint that M3D might be planning a Micro update!  This is very intriguing to us because the Micro has become an important part of our strategy for advancing the 3D design skills of our teachers and mentor cadets.

Launch online help

When the Question Mark at the top right of the screen, it takes us to the online M3D site.

M3D Online  Help Site

Search for recent models

Just above the "Recent Models" and "Recent Prints" tabs there is a "Search" text box that allows us to FILTER recent models or prints in the Library by name or partial name.  In this sample we see that we have at least 6 recent models visible.

M3D Unfiltered Recent Model List

However, by entering a "Z" in the search text box and hitting RETURN, the visible files are filtered so that only those files beginning in 'Z' are shown.

M3D Filtered Recent Model List
With this in mind, it can be a good thing to develop a naming convention that helps filter models easily as the Library grows.

Load recent models
Load recently printed model

When we click on a Recent Model or Recent Print image of a model in the Library, that model is loaded into the Print Manager.   We then leave the Library and move into the Print Manager.  

This is where new features begin to show themselves.

M3D Print Manager
Notice the new set of icons at the left side of the screen.  While we will discuss the Print Manager in a separate post, suffice it to say that I love this new layout.   More later! 

Remove recent models from the Library

There is a feature that is not obvious that allows us to remove a model from either of the "Recent" shelves.  When we click on a model and hold down the left mouse button AND DRAG THE MOUSE a trashcan will appear at the bottom right of the screen.  If we continue to drag the model to the trashcan it is removed from the library.

NOTE: If we fail to reach the trashcan, the model may be loaded into the Print Manager.

Launch the Print Manager

We can open the Print Manager at ant time by simply clicking on the printer image to the left of the library tabs.

The real changes to the M3D Printer Software in this new release become obvious when we leave the Library Screen.  But, this is the launching place for all the new features so it is important to understand all that is available on this screen.

We move next to the Print Manager.

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!