Today, Ultimaker announced some major upcoming improvements to their Cura software, which will be called Ultimaker Cura moving forward. The next version of Ultimaker Cura will be launched on October 17th, 2017. This version will feature seamless integration with SolidWorks and Siemens NX CAD software. It will also feature a new plugin platform allowing third-party developers to more easily create new plugins for Ultimaker Cura.
Even more exciting is something called Cura Connect, which will be added to Ultimaker Cura on November 7, 2017. Cura Connect will allow users to queue multiple print jobs for their Ultimaker printers. More importantly, it will enable the management of multiple Ultimaker printers. For example, if a university has a print farm with 20 Ultimaker printers, a user can queue up a print job, and Cura Connect will automatically identify which printer has the appropriate material loaded and will queue the job up for that printer.
The Cura Connect solution operates entirely within the local area network and does not require outside Internet connectivity. This means that in most cases, the IT department will not need to be involved with enabling the solution.
This opens up significant new possibilities for small-scale manufacturing and other commercial applications. Many companies are weighing the choice of buying a single SLS 3D printer (at a six-figure cost), or purchasing dozens of Ultimaker printers. With the addition of Cura Connect, the latter option is looking a lot more attractive.
I recently did a workshop with my local library, the Algonquin Area Public Library District. Working with a group of about a dozen 4th through 8th graders, we selected an object to 3D print and then created a time-lapse video of the project. This provided a great opportunity to introduce the kids to 3D printing in a fun and exciting way, and it also introduced them to a variety of video production skills.
This workshop was conducted in two parts. The first part took place on a Friday. The second part took place the following Monday.
First, I showed them about a dozen objects from Thingiverse.com and let them vote on which one to print. While they were at first very excited about some of the Pokémon characters available, they ended up voting for this fun marble machine, by Tulio:
We then proceeded to get the print job setup. Since we were using an Ultimaker 3 3D printer for this project, we used the Cura slicing software to prepare the print job.
This model was printed in PLA filament at 0.2mm layer height. No supports were needed.
Once the print job was setup, we positioned a webcam on a tripod in front of the 3D printer. Using a program called EvoCam, we took a snapshot of the print job every 15 seconds.
After getting the print job started and verifying that the snapshots were saving properly, we adjourned for the day and allowed the print job to run. As configured, the print job took about 39 hours to complete.
When we returned on Monday, we had a very nice print waiting for us:
Using a program called Zeitraffer, we combined the many snapshots of the print job into a time lapse video. At 30 frames per second, we ended up with a video of a little over 5 minutes. This would later be adjusted in the video editing phase to produce a shorter video.
Next, I provided the kids with choices of music to accompany their time-lapse video, and they voted for an upbeat piece called “Club Rock” which you’ll hear in the final video.
Using Final Cut Pro X, I showed them how to assemble the various pieces to produce the final video. We used some title slides, the above screenshots of Thingiverse and Cura, then the time-lapse video, shortened to about 1 minute, and then we inserted some footage showing the kids assembling and testing the marble machine. After adding our chosen music and inserting transitions, we were ready to produce our video and publish it to YouTube!
The kids had a lot of fun with this workshop, as did I. If you’re looking to introduce kids to 3D printing in a fun and engaging way, I recommend a project like this. Too often, the things produced by 3D printers are just static objects. In this case, you end up with a fun marble machine with moving parts that the kids can actually play with.
The “marbles” we used in the marble machine are 9.5mm steel ball bearings, which you can purchase at your local hardware store.
This last month we experimented with Polycarbonate filament, a member of Ultimaker’s recently released batch of engineering materials. In addition to being able to produce some really nice looking prints, Polycarbonate also possesses some favorable properties. We tested the material on an Ultimaker 2+. While Ultimaker’s Cura slicing software is optimized for usage of Polycarbonate on an Ultimaker 3D printer, any other 3D printer that accepts 2.85 mm filament should be able to print fine with it.
The recommended applications for Polycarbonate are: “molds, tools, functional prototypes and parts for short-run manufacturing”. It’s also been said that Polycarbonate is suitable for making lamp shades, due to its flame retardant characteristics. But, until we have a chance to verify the safety of this use case, we recommend not doing so.
Using Cura’s built-in material profiles, Polycarbonate proved to be a relatively easy material to work with. It was simply a matter of dragging the STL files into Cura, selecting the material (PC), and saving the sliced piece. We opted to enable the “Spiralize Outer Contour” feature in Cura for our “Twisted Gear” vase print, which greatly enhanced the appearance of the finished print. For first layer adhesion, we used a glue stick. Additionally, while it’s recommended to print Polycarbonate with an enclosure (not unlike ABS), we managed to produce some high-quality prints without actually doing so:
In the following video, we demonstrate one of the key differences between Polycarbonate and PLA (Polylactic Acid) 3D printing filaments. Polycarbonate maintains dimensional stability up to 110° Celsius. In plain English, Polycarbonate pieces can withstand higher temperatures than other filaments without melting or falling apart. To illustrate, we submerged one of our Polycarbonate prints in 96° Celsius water and it emerged unaffected. A PLA piece of the exact same geometry immediately wilted under the exact same heat stress.
Thus, to summarize: Polycarbonate is nice material for producing high-quality prints, and along with it being able to withstand more heat stress than the average spool of PLA, Polycarbonate can be useful for a broader range of applications.
Today, Ultimaker launches their new Ultimaker 3 and Ultimaker 3 Extended desktop 3D printers. Some of the key new features are as follows:
1. Dual extrusion → Ultimaker has introduced an ingenious new method for producing clean dual extrusion prints. A mechanical switch lifts one extruder so that it’s out of the way when the other extruder is printing. This opens up a wide range of possibilities for printing complex geometries using PVA water soluble filament, as well as dual color printing capabilities.
2. Swappable print cores → With the Ultimaker 2+ there used to be only swappable nozzles. With the Ultimaker 3, the user can now replace the entire print core to easily switch between materials in seconds.
3. Connectivity → The user can start prints through the network, update firmware and easily integrate with printer networking solutions.
4. Active bed leveling → The new Ultimaker 3 can compensate for minor bed leveling issues by automatically adjusting the amount of filament extruded for the first several layers in the appropriate parts of a printed object.
5. NFC (Near Field Communication) → There is a chip on the filament holder and a reader on the spool holder of the printer that identifies which material is being put on. Cura, the slicing software, adjusts the settings automatically to the best settings for this material.
6. Built in camera → The user can now watch your print through Cura when located on the same WIFI network.
7. USB → If the user does not want to start prints through the network, they can load gcode onto a USB stick and print from there.
Check out our video for a comprehensive tour of all the new features in the Ultimaker 3 and the new and improved Cura software!
I recently installed Ultimaker’s Extrusion Upgrade Kit on my Ultimaker 2, upgrading it to an Ultimaker 2+. I couldn’t be happier with the results! It’s like a whole new 3D printer!
I’ve been using the Ultimaker 2 for a couple of years now, and I was very happy with the printer overall. Out of all the desktop 3D printers I’ve tested, the Ultimaker 2 stood out as one of the best available. However, I occasionally would run into issues with the feeder mechanism. Sometimes, the filament would slip or the feeder would grind into the filament. This would sometimes lead to failed prints. I noticed this problem especially on prints with heavy retractions.
As an example, check out the photo below. I tried printing this on my Ultimaker 2, before installing the upgrade kit, and the print failed about half-way through. When it got to the part with all those small arches, it had too many retractions for the printer to handle. The filament was ground down by the feeder mechanism, leading to an “air print”.
After installing the Extrusion Upgrade Kit, this was the first print I tried, and it worked flawlessly! Since then, I’ve printed all sorts of things, with almost no failed prints. The difference the upgrade kit made is very noticeable.
The Ultimaker Extrusion Upgrade Kit retails for $395 in the USA, and each kit includes the following:
BB8 Builder’s Club, is growing organization of 1800+ that is focused on building home-brewed BB8’s. As of “October the BB-8th”, they are now officially recognized by LucasFilm Ltd. Moreover, they have publicly released the STL files for 3D printing the parts. You can learn more, and even join, the BB8 Builder’s Club here.
Also, completely independent of the BB8 Builder’s Club, “part-time makergeek” Jean-René Bédard has developed his own BB8, as well. His droid is 3D-printed, remote-controlled, managed by Arduino circuits and stands on its own two wheels. You can read the full story here, at 3ders.org.
Erik de Bruijn is a co-founder of Ultimaker BV, launched in 2011. Ultimaker became an established brand in the 3D printing community within its first year, selling its flagship product, “Ultimaker”, to nearly 1000 people worldwide. The Ultimaker is the fastest 3D printer in its segment, printing the largest objects with the greatest detail.
Here’s what the company has to say about itself:
“It all started with a thought. We wanted everyone to be able to enjoy the experience of making. Whether it was a cat dressed as an astronaut or a mechanical masterpiece, we set it as our goal to enable you to make those things. So we built a pioneering device that everyone could use and enjoy. We made it open source so everyone really could pitch in. And we started to grow…We tinkered, tweaked, invented, innovated and reinvented. And so did our community…”
This statement reflects what became a theme of our interview: 3D printing is exciting, but just as exciting are the values the movement embraces. Tinkering, creativity, open sharing, collaboration, community, enabling and empowering: these are words we hear over and over again as 3D printing enthusiasts talk about the world of 3D printing, the world of tomorrow that is opening before us today.
The Interview, Part I: Erik de Bruijn’s Role & Ultimaker, The Product
Jeremy: I’m here today with Erik de Bruijn, one of the founders of Ultimaker. Erik, can you tell us about your role with Ultimaker today?
Erik: We are growing rapidly. It’s great to see so many new, talented people join the company. It is also great to know that although it’s difficult for us to find the right people, we continue to find people who embody the Ultimaker spirit and share the same open source and open hardware ideals we have.
Although my role changes in some ways as we grow, in other ways my role as a founder remains constant, at least at its core: my job is to make sure our mission remains intact and that we can all do something we believe in. It is still very motivating to see people taking their ideas and making them tangible.
While I’m passionate about technology, I’m especially excited about technology as a tool: 3D printing, electronics, how they work together and how they can empower the user.
I learn from the people we’re hiring. I like to connect various ideas and make something neat out of that. I’m able to do that with more and more people as we grow.
It’s also my job to make sure we’re working on interesting concepts and making good products. Our products are the driver in terms of what we can do in innovation.
Jeremy: Speaking of products, others have focused on making a machine that can reproduce itself, along the lines of the RepRap Project. Ultimaker seems more focused on quality. Can you talk with us a little about the commitments that make Ultimaker unique?
Erik: Yes, we are focused on making a printer that’s high quality and reliable, but we do find that many people in the community are using Ultimakers to print upgrades for their Ultimakers!
We also want to make it possible for people without a lot of knowledge to use an Ultimaker. Things like layer thickness, quality control, repeatability and resolution are very important to us. We want to raise the bar for desktop 3D printers. We’re seeing now that our machines are used in medical research, for example, to make scaffolds for biofabrication.
It’s these kinds of applications that, on the one hand, are a testimony to our quality and, on the other hand, push us to increase the quality of the machine and the 3D prints.
The Interview, Part II: Viability of Open Source Business Model in 3D Printing
Jeremy: Ultimaker has always had a commitment to open source. Some argue that it’s difficult to maintain a viable business while giving away designs and maintaining an open source approach. How do you respond to that idea?
Erik: We do have that commitment, and we are viable and we keep growing.
Hopefully people copy from us and contribute something back. We’ve seen a lot of people from the community improve and contribute to Ultimaker. Others have simply copied the machine and are selling these copies. This drives us to keep improving our machine.
Still, it’s really about the kinds of interactions we have. There’s a good feeling about what a community is and a sense of appreciation for why people are in this community. It’s about tinkering and creating and sharing.
It’s important to share what we know, not expecting something back but feeling confident that something will come back. The beauty of community is that we might get something back that we didn’t expect! Or something for which we didn’t even ask!
Publishing design files opens the opportunity for people with diverse skills to look at the designs and contribute. People look at the designs because they’re interested, but they might have a very different take, a diverse approach, and that adds to it.
Most companies look to hire a narrow set of people for R&D. That’s the traditional way but probably not the best way to get an R&D department together.
The kind of community we work in doesn’t have constraints around time or on what we can try. People have full autonomy, and that can lead to a process of creativity, to trying new things and experimenting.
Of course there can be too much freedom as well as too many constraints. Balance is what we want. And so we appreciate different skills and give people free reign — but we also have staff who make sure things are stable, who exercise quality control.
Taken together, stable quality and fast innovation is what makes a company viable. The open approach we take has proven to work well and benefits us and the community.
Jeremy: Erik, you and I met as volunteers with the e-NABLE community – link. Ultimaker has been very supportive of that community, donating printers, software development and more. Can you tell us about Ultimaker’s charitable efforts?
Erik: e-NABLE benefits from the freedom of 3D printing.
All too often, the goal of the medical community is to try to make a product like a prosthetic invisible. With 3D printing, you can decide what a prosthetic should look like. The recipient is in the driver’s seat!
3D printed things, including prosthetics, don’t only have to be useful but also cool and well-liked, or people won’t use them. When a user can make the decisions, it’s more likely they’ll actually use the product.
And if they require changes, that can happen too, because a 3D printed prosthetic is so much less expensive than traditional devices. A 3D printed e-NABLE hand may cost $20. This makes it very affordable for the developing world as well. That’s what I mean by the freedom of 3D printing.
Ultimaker wants to connect with that freedom. We used to develop things on the computer that remained virtual, but it’s great to finally be able to make things physical, to invent something tangible by yourself or with others.
Also, e-NABLE is a community of people helping each other, so their orientation is similar to Ultimaker’s.
The Interview, Part III: 3D Printing in Education
Jeremy: 3D printers are showing up in classrooms around the world. Ultimaker is a popular choice in schools. What are Ultimaker’s goals with regard to education?
Erik: We are doing well in business environments, schools and maker communities. We want to support these sectors because we came from them.
3D printing has been around for 30-35 years. In some ways, these environments are late comers, and yet children are very creative. They’ll catch the schools up fast, and we want to be part of facilitating that.
It’s great for kids to have an idea and make it. Most of us grew up with old idea that we ourselves can’t make anything. The new idea is “imagine, then make.” It’s about dreaming AND doing.
3D printed items in the classroom can make ideas and concepts visible. A 3D printed depth map of Waterloo will let you understand why certain things happened at the battle. A 3D printed crown of an ancient king may let you see just how small people were back then. A 3D printed model of an engine lets you see how crankshafts work.
Especially for kinesthetic learners, 3D printing often makes ideas click much more rapidly than other methods. For experiential learners, 3D printed items in a classroom can also have significant impact. These two learning styles are hardly addressed and taught to in the current educational system.
Imagine just sitting in a chair 30 hours a week with someone rattling off facts and concepts. Now imagine being a kinesthetic or tactile learner for whom touching and interacting with an item deepens understanding. For these kinds of learners, that lecture style of presentation is a very boring thing. 3D printing has a part to play in making concepts tactile and letting kids interact with a physical manifestation of an idea in order to completely understand it.
The Interview, Part IV: 3D Printing, Tinkering, Collaboration & the Power of Community
Jeremy: What is the most exciting experience you’ve had since starting Ultimaker? Erik: That’s a good question!
Probably one of the most powerful moments was at the e-NABLE conference at Johns Hopkins University. What a great event! All these people were using 3D printers and had been using them in their homes.
It was an amazing experience to see how all those parts for 3D printed hands were brought together. It was even more amazing to watch people assembling prosthetic devices with their children and for their children!
That experience made me feel proud of what we’re doing as a company and as a community.
We have had moments within our own company as well. We feel an Ultimaker spirit with all these different people that have joined us. Of course there are hurdles along the way, technological or interpersonal. The things that can sometimes be difficult are also the things that make it meaningful.
Jeremy: So really what you’re doing is giving people a tool with these 3D printers. They take it from there, seeing what they can create. Have people done things that surprised you or that you weren’t expecting?
Erik: I was just at an Ultimaker event a few days ago, lots of people coming together. A guy called Arjan showed me that he had modified his Ultimaker to add interchangeable print heads for multi-extrusion printing.
This process of expanding the capability of a 3D printer is what lets Ultimaker make better printers.
I think it would be ironic if people had a tool that can make almost anything but couldn’t improve on the tool. I like coevolution. We shape the technology, and the technology shapes us.
Something big has changed since open source software became significant. We might not be able to find two people in the same geographical space and with the right set of skills to collaborate, but we can certainly find two on the globe. It’s exciting. It finally gives us the power to collaborate globally and produce locally.
Jeremy: Where do you see consumer level 3D printing going and Ultimaker fitting into that picture?
Erik: We are already in a steep growth curve, but there’s still a lot of growth ahead before we hit the consumer stage. Still, I have to say, it’s in the near future. We tend to overestimate exponential change in the short run and underestimate it in long run.
Certainly we’ll get to a place where we’ll print different kinds of structures and materials with one device.
We’ll see more people tinkering online with a design to make it work for them. We’ll see more products completely manufactured to specification in this way. And collaboration tools will be more powerful too.
At Ultimaker, we want to encourage that collaborative process of tinkering and customizing. This possibility is a great motivator for me. People around the world can invent tools and have manufacturing capability in their homes and work with us. We cannot do it alone as a company — we want to collaborate!
The Interview, Part V: YouMagine
Jeremy: So I’d be remiss if I didn’t ask for hints of upcoming product lines or initiatives . . .
Erik: I’m glad you asked. I’ll mention a couple of things, but I’d like to focus on a project that is near and dear to my heart, YouMagine.
We’re always working to make our machines more user friendly, more capable and more connected. And we’re working toward machines with multi-material capabilities.
The Ultimaker printer is an output device. It has to work well and be capable — but a single focus on a better device is too narrow.
We want to take things to the next level, so we work on lots of things at the same time. It cannot be just “good” hardware if we want our users to succeed. Software and hardware need to work well together. This is where we can make the difference.
We also want to be sure the Ultimaker is compatible with materials we haven’t even tried yet. That doesn’t mean everything will work with it, but you have to have freedom to use cutting edge material. And exciting materials are released almost on a weekly basis.
And there’s YouMagine, a project I created and oversee. YouMagine is an online community of 3D printing enthusiasts who want to work together to share, remix and make better 3D printed things collaboratively. YouMagine facilitates this community, empowers and gives people the tools they need in order to improve, invent and make.
We believe that through collaboration and sharing all of us can make all the things better.
Jeremy: Erik, it seems as though the recurring theme of our conversation is the power of a community, of collaboration and sharing. This is what excites me about 3D printing as well. It’s a new way of thinking and living and creating. Thank you for sharing your thoughts with us today.
Erik: Thank you. I enjoyed it.
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NOTE: this post was written by Aleks, co-founder of 3D Universe. Until now, he’s been working behind-the-scenes doing all the programming and design work for the online store.
Last week, we went on another 3D Universe field trip, this time to Memphis, Tennessee. Jeremy and I took a 550-mile journey to visit Ultimaker’s United States-based partner, Fbrc8. They are the folks responsible for the assembly and distribution of Ultimaker 2’s in the United States.
At 3D Universe, our whole philosophy is that we use the actual products we sell. It’s an easy value proposition to own up to: we get to tinker and play with 3D printing technology for a living. What’s not to like about that? 🙂
One of our favorite 3D printers to play with is the Ultimaker 2. It’s an easy product to like. We knew that if we were going to sell them, we wanted to be able to provide the best support possible. With Ultimaker committed to growing into the United States market, we needed to go no further than Memphis, Tennessee to get the training needed.
We were already excited about getting to spend an entire day with Simon Oliver, owner of Fbrc8. What we didn’t know is that we were each going to get to build a brand new Ultimaker 2 from the ground up. Talk about getting some serious hands-on training!
Simon is a highly respected moderator known as “Illuminarti” on the Ultimaker forums. There are few people who have spent more time than Simon working with Ultimaker printers. We couldn’t have asked for a better instructor!
We spent the morning going through some basic support issues and getting oriented. After lunch we plunged head-first into building our two Ultimakers.
Here’s what we started with, two empty cases. I said we started from the ground-up, but we actually had a tiny head-start:
Here’s a shot of our venerable (and patient) instructor, Simon Oliver:
Here I am assembling the hot end:
And the fully assembled hot ends, prior to installation:
Here, Jeremy is connecting the Bowden tube:
Here’s a shot my first test print fresh from the Ultimaker I finished building only a half-hour earlier – a pretty surreal experience!
The master and his newly initiated apprentices near the end of the day. In right side of the photo on, you can see our two completely assembled Ultimakers sitting on the table:
We started with two empty cases, installed all the major and minor components, including the main circuit board, the hot end assembly and the backbone wiring. The result was two fully assembled Ultimaker 2’s. And a pretty proud pair of tech geeks!
After lubricating the appropriate moving parts, we ran our first test prints. I watched as the nozzle emitted the first layer of plain-white PLA, then the next, and so on… until the entire 1 mm-tall test square completed.
Eventually, I was holding the 3D print from a machine which I had built with my own hands, in no small way with the benefit of Simon’s expert instruction! In the long course of my career, this stands as one of those subtly defining moments that I’m sure I’ll fondly remember, decades from now.
We gave a profuse thanks to Simon for taking time out of his very busy schedule to accommodate us and give us this one-of-a-kind training. We soon got on the road and headed back to Chicago….