Setting Up A 3D Lab

I am working on developing a 3D scanning and printing learning center for my department over Winter Break 2017. The lab has a NextEngine HD desktop scanner, turntable, and Cubify Sense handheld scanner, plus an Afinia H400 3D printer. In January 2018, I plan on adding another 3D scanner.

The video below demonstrates my environment; fairly simple at this point. I am setting up the devices, downloading drivers and software, and testing out the various components.

Ease of Setup: Afinia H400
The Afinia H400 was pretty straight-forward to setup. The Quick-Start brochure was easy to follow, each step was numbered to assist in getting the unit up-and-running. This was my first setup and configuration of a 3D printer. The biggest challenge wasn’t so much the installation of the printhead nozzle but figuring out the actual workflow. The User’s Guide was sort of helpful but not complete. For instance, the User’s Guide included no section on how to remove the printing platform from the unit, or remove the printed object from the platform. Fortunately, a few users and posted a YouTube video demonstrating how to perform each task. The lack of decent, well-created instructions forced me to develop and writing my own. The original user’s manual skipped a significant step. Also, the software version had apparently been upgraded since the user manual was credited and the software screenshots did not match my newer version. My homegrown user’s manual I then converted to PDF and emailed to the relevant faculty members.[1].jpgEase of Setup: Cubify Sense
The Cubify Sense was purchased in 2013. My director bought it in conjunction with a Cubify Duo 3D printer. Both went out-of-service when my director passed away from cancer. Unfortunately, support for the Cubify devices were locked behind a sign-in wall tied to my former director’s sign-in credentials. Cubify is now owned by 3DSystems, so I had to direct an email to their support email address to request transfer of the account to me. This took about 12 hours, and it did result in granting me access to drivers and software.

The Cubify Sense drivers and software installed without any issues. I expected something to go wrong since the drivers were for Windows 7 and my laptop is running Windows 10 Professional. The software is a little clunky but eventually I figured out the nuances and got an image on the laptop. The hand-held Sense displays a camera image plus an image of the model being generated. I had a difficult time getting a model created, a decent model. Interestingly enough, most of the successful scans I was able to find examples of were of a stand-mounted Sense, which sort of defeats the hand-held, portability of the Sense.

We have a Cubify Duo 3D printer. We never got a clean print from the printer. Now, something has happened either to the firmware or the controller board. Either way, Cubify has been reluctant to help us determine what the problem is, or to offer a replacement controller board to help us diagnose the problem. So, I have a nice, big Cubify Duo with its shiny countenance passively watching the day go by, quiet and impotent.


NextEngine 3D Scanner HD

Ease of Setup: NextEngine 3D Scanner HD
The NextEngine 3D HD took the longest to setup and configure. In fact, this process is still on-going over Winter Break 2017. NextEngine did not respond to my request to access the account details of my deceased director for about 2 days. Once I gained access to drivers and software, the installation and setup was straight-forward; click through the menus and follow instructions. Even the drivers were for Windows 7, Windows 10 appears to work well.

I am still running test scans to figure out how to optimize the scan process. The test object, the plastic palm tree which accompanied the scanner, took a number of attempts to scan properly. The scanner platform really needs to be aligned precisely according to directions. The number of inches away from the scanner really makes a difference. Ensure the platform is precisely parallel to the front side of the scanner. Use the camera image in the software window to align the image to the scanner. Once the object is aligned, the scan process can take a while.

What is “a while?” I’m still working on collecting what I am going to call a “clean scan.” The object appears on-screen as a recognizable solid, virtual object, yet the object has all sorts of artifacts floating around and clinging to the object. The object doesn’t appear to completely solid; a few voids or gaps exist. The scanner can be configured to acquire data in “slices.” A slice is a single scan of the object. The more slices taken, the higher the resolution of the object. The time to scan increases, too. The default number of slices is 5 scans. The scanner scans the object, the rotates the table 72º (360 ÷ 5 = 72) and acquires a second scan, then the table rotates again and a new scan is acquired. The more slices taken, the better the quality of the resulting 3D object. Five slices took about 40 minutes. I ran a scan selecting 8 slices and I had to walk away and do something else. I’m not sure how long the actual process took; probably a couple hours. Once the complete scan was acquired, I opted to clean-up the image using some of the software tools provided.

I will have to go back an re-evaluate this process, as I really did have to walk away while the clean-up software ran. The software reports the number of stages required to process the image. I sat around to see how long the software required to move from one stage to the next and realized the time to completion was going to take longer than I had to wait. I set the laptop to never shutdown the hard drive, as sometimes these power settings interfere with processing, and I left the lab.

I contracted the mild stomach flu going around town overnight and wasn’t able to return to the lab the following day. Wednesday, I had to prep for holiday travel and was unable to check on the progress of the cleaning operation. Thus, it will be a while before I can report back any results.

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