The Paradox of Choice in 3d

I recently found myself in the very lucky situation of needing to select a 3d Printer to purchase for my students. I know right? I was pretty stoked, too. Then things went quickly from giddy anticipation to confusion and eventually to paralysis. You see, there are a lot of choices out there, and I mean, a lot. Go ahead, Google "3d Printer".

Asking around

MakerBot Replicator Mini-Essentials
I spoke to folks in my IT department, at the high school, and some neighboring districts. Back when everyone was getting on the initial bandwagon, they were getting MakerBot brand printers. I decided to check out their web site, and I was pleased to find that they had apps for iOS (we are a 1 to 1 iPad building), and a package for their entry level printer, called Replicator Mini Essentials, which included the MakerBot Replicator Mini Compact 3D Printer, a Smart Extruder (I had no idea what this is or what it was for), and a 10 Pack of MakerBot PLA Filaments.

This seemed like the obvious choice, and I was ready to go with it. Then, everything blew up.

The Current Situation

The much maligned "smart" extruder
So, I had pretty much landed on MakerBot's Replicator Mini Essentials package. I would have ordered it too, but I was asked to see if it was available from Amazon. This is when I discovered that what has been historically good in the past is not necessarily the best choice in the present.

Unfortunately, the Makerbot brand has suffered a bit in 2015, and I only discovered that by looking at Amazon's famous Customer Reviews section. This lead me to begin a bit of an investigative search of recent reviews across the internet (Yay for Google Advanced Search). What I found is that the current generation of Makerbot printers are, for lack of a better word, complete crap... and poorly supported crap at that. I also found out what the deal with the extra "Smart Extruder" in the essentials package was. It turns out that this part frequently fails, needs frequent replacement, and costs 175.00 a pop. I also realized that this is one of the few entry level printers on the market that is only compatible with PLA filament and not ABS. Further, I found that the current generation of MakerBot PLA is crap (or packaged incorrectly) and causes frequent print fails.
the Zortrax M200

So, I found myself at square one. What do I do? I began reading reviews again, and I got completely overwhelmed. Given unlimited an unlimited budget and absolute autonomy, I would probably have purchased an Ultimaker 2 and a Zortrax M200. Both of these units have great reviews but are far from cheap and "entry level". If we ever "move up" to a more advanced model, I'm totally going to ask for the Zortrax M200.

Cutting through the confusion

Finally, I ended up kicking it old-school. I made a chart with all the criteria my principal and I discussed for a 3d Printer. We wanted it to by iOS compatible in a simple and straightforward way. We wanted it to be "plug and play" (no assembly and constant part swapping required). We wanted it to be able to print in ABS and PLA. Finally, the more affordable the better. 
Cubify Cube

With all that in place, the obvious choice that was left was the Cubify Cube. The Cube has a Dual extruder, which means it prints in two colors. You can print designs wirelessly from a PC or iOS device using the free Cubify app.
It is compatible with multiple materials, including PLA, ABS, and Infinity Rinse-Away support material (not sure what that is yet). Finally, the Cube is certified-safe for children 8-years-old and up. I am not a fan of injuring students or causing lawsuits, so this was a plus.

Set up

Behold the test print...
Dave, one of our awesome IT peeps, and I got together this afternoon to set this sucker up. Unboxing the printer was pretty straightforward, as outlined here and here. I was surprised at how light weight and compact this printer was. If Apple made a 3d Printer, it would look a lot like this.

While downloading and installing the Cubify software, we hit our first snag. Apparently, all of the graphics cards in my building are just old enough that they will not run Open GL 3.0. The tech department ended up getting a Surface from the tech center and installing Cubify on that.

Set up proceeded along nicely after that minor snag and activating the warranty was a breeze. 

I hope to make some future posts on actual prints my students have done. For now, here's the wiki for the associated project. 

Now I'm left with the tough question, what 3d printer do I get for my house?



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