Without much fanfare, UP! recently released version 1.18 of its software as an update for Windows users. Listed in the update notes: "Platform Level Calibration Software Utility." Oh, no. Not more calibration! Luckily, the description in the notes isn't quite as boastful as it could be. A more accurate reflection of this new feature might be, "Warped Platform Compensation," because that is exactly what it is.
The new utility allows you to measure platform height verses the nozzle at nine points, as opposed to the five available in the Maintenance dialogue. More importantly, it allows you to enter offsets between the nine points – differences in distance between each of the nine points and the nozzle. Once those offsets are saved, the UP! software compensates for those differences by slightly adjusting the raft height it builds underneath the model. In layman's terms, it is warped surface compensation and it is a spectacular feature.
In the image above, point eight on the platform surface is set to zero. This is the highest point on the surface. Point three is set to 0.5, indicating a platform-to-nozzle distance difference of 500 microns – a half millimeter. Looking at the numbers for all nine points, it is clear that in using Pyrex glass with a few layers of hairspray mixed with an abundance of airborne dust found only in places like Phoenix, Ariz., we managed to warp our surface more than twice the height of the first layer of plastic to be melted onto the surface. The next print job should have zero chance of success if it spans more than a fifth of the platform. Can UP!'s new software handle it?
|Intern Allison’s feline Cookie Cutter|
The answer is a resounding yes. No problem, in fact. The surface might as well have been a perfect plane. We tested it with several items, one of which was the feline cookie cutter seen in the image above, spanning approximately three quarters of the build surface. UP!'s new warped surface compensation works.
Through its proprietary software, UP! continues its assault on the ease-of-use barrier. Can we expect similar advances from other vendors? Undoubtedly. We can expect to see an ease-of-use arms race.
Any manufacturer envisioning a future that justifies the current level of 3D printer hype understands just how important ease-of-use is. The goal should be nothing less than a 3D printer no more difficult to set up and operate than an HP Inkjet. While this might seem farfetched to the casual observer or perhaps sacrilegious to the maker movement, it is not unrealistic. Based on IT history, it is not only realistic, it is inevitable.
The signs are already visible. The most common new feature for 3D printers is not multi-extrusion or larger build envelopes (both popular additions), it is improved ease-of-use, as is seen in UP!'s recent software update. Whether the 3D printer fan base likes it or not, that means proprietary hardware and software will eventually dominate the consumer market. This won't stop the tinkerers from being able to roll their own any more than Windows stopped Linux. But, it isn't hard to imagine a similarly lopsided user ratio and frankly, such a shift toward proprietary solutions may be the catalyst required to realize the personal 3D printer sales explosion expected to take place within the next five years.
Author's note: PP3DP's UP! series of 3D printers are available from a large number of distributors around the world. The UP! Plus is also the OEM source of the Afinia H479. The software update described in this article is likewise available for Afinia's printer.