Desktop 3D Printers for CAD Professionals24 Jun, 2015 By: Robert Green
Cadalyst Labs Report: This evaluation of three compact, affordable, office-friendly models can help you determine which solution is right for your workplace.
Pros: Good resolution, large build envelope, support for three colors/materials, heavy-duty construction, Wi-Fi connectivity.
Cons: Expensive/proprietary filament rolls, cumbersome glue/baseplate workflow.
Overall Grade: A
Price: $4,299; basic model starts at $2,799
The 3D Systems CubePro Trio is a heavy-duty fused deposition modeling (FDM) system consisting of a CubePro PJP (PlasticJet Printing) triple-extruder (printhead) device capable of 70 micron (0.003") resolution with a build envelope of approximately 10.5" x 9" x 8". It's marketed toward professional users requiring a larger print envelope, multicolor printing capability, and a wide variety of material choices.
The CubePro Trio uses propri tary cartridges loaded with filaments, available in a wide variety of PLA plastics, ABS plastic, and nylon materials. The filament is routed through heated extruders located inside the CubePro's climate-controlled chamber.
The CubePro Trio arrives in a heavy-duty box atop a wood shipping pallet. Since it weighs in at 98 lbs, make sure you have the shipper place it very near your point of installation to save your back! Inside the box all the accessories (tools, cartridges, build plate, power cord, etc.) are well packaged in separate containers.
Putting the CubePro Trio together is a straightforward process — until it comes time to load the print cartridges. Accessing the interior of the Trio's cabinet is not a problem from a space perspective, but the process of manually pulling the filament from the cartridge and feeding it into the serpentine tube that goes to the printheads takes a little getting used to. After initiating the cartridge load procedure from the touch screen, you partially load the cartridge and feed the filament into the unit until the printhead "grabs" and starts ejecting melted material — that's when you'll acknowledge the proper loading at the touch screen and click the cartridge into place. (A word of warning: Whatever you do, don't pull too much filament out of the cartridge; you'll have to force it back into the cartridge, which can cause a tangle that reminds me very much of trying to rewind a spool of weed-trimmer cutting line.) Since the Trio supports as many as three materials, you may have to repeat the loading process several times.
To complete the process, the included CubePro software installs flawlessly in just a few minutes; then you're ready to go.
Wi-Fi–enabled CubePro Trio in an office breakroom. Image courtesy of 3D Systems.
Getting to Work
I opened the CubePro software and loaded one of my sample files, which were modeled in Autodesk Inventor and exported to STL. The part imported perfectly onto a graphical representation of the baseplate, with the lowest z values of the model aligning perfectly on the plate surface. After some scaling and moving to center the part, and adjusting the software settings for material type and resolution, I was able to save the print job to the memory stick, then initiate the print job directly at the Trio unit. The alternative to the memory stick is to use a Wi-Fi connection to send the job to the printer. These two connection options should make the CubePro Trio an easily shareable device in small workgroup environments — a crucial feature, given that its cost will prevent customers from buying one for every desktop.
Setting print parameters in the CubePro Trio.
Of course, you'll need to be sure you have the correct color and type of material cartridge(s) inserted into the printer prior to starting the job; the cartridge communicates directly with the printer so CubePro can adjust its climate settings automatically by material type. And there's another essential element to preparation: the baseplate must be clean and dry so you can apply a proprietary glue ($9 per container) which helps the part adhere to the baseplate during printing. If you fail to cover the entire active area where the print will be, you may have to stop the print and start over due to material shifting.
Once that's all taken care of, as with any 3D printer, you simply sit back and wait while the part is built on the baseplate. The time of the build is accurately forecast by the CubePro software.
When the print is finished, it is time to separate it from the baseplate by soaking the baseplate and part in water to dissolve the glue, then gently popping the print free with a putty knife–type tool. Given the time it takes to soak (three to five minutes), clean, and dry the baseplate, I suspect that multiple plates (at $149 each) would be required in a production setting.
Positives: The CubePro Trio delivers good-quality part resolution over a far larger build envelope than the other machines I evaluated for this roundup. It's all enclosed inside a heavy-duty enclosure that should take a pounding without issue, and it provides automated climate settings for different material types (ABS, for example, needs more heat than PLA).
At a 70-micron (0.07-mm) resolution, parts are of good quality for mechanical prototyping, but won't be smooth enough to replicate the small details required for richly detailed architectural models or city-planning applications.
Negatives: The cost ($99) and proprietary nature of the filament cartridges used in the Trio pushes the cost of printing up, and it also makes recovering from cartridge misfeeds much more cumbersome than with a simple roll-feed system. (The embedded Smart Technology in the cartridge does communicate print settings for the different materials, however, and the watertight design with an internal desiccant increases the shelf life of materials such as nylon and PLA that are prone to drying out and degradation.) Also, the need to pretreat the baseplate with glue increases the likelihood that something could go wrong.
The 3D Systems CubePro Trio delivers good-quality FDM printing with a very large build envelope and support for three color/material options in a ruggedized, Wi-Fi–enabled package that could make it a real workhorse for a small group of professionals. However, its quirky glue-down baseplate work process and expensive consumable supplies, combined with its high initial cost, combine to make it the most expensive option reviewed for this roundup. The CubePro Trio will likely find its home in companies that need its multicolor functionality or large build envelope, and are willing to pay the corresponding costs. Highly Recommended.