Attempt at non-biased in-depth review: Afinia vs Cube

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chippwalters
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Attempt at non-biased in-depth review: Afinia vs Cube

Post by chippwalters » Sun Oct 27, 2013 12:32 am

Feedback welcome. I'll publish soon. Sorry so long..
---------------

This is an in-depth review of both Cubify and Afinia 3D printers.
by Chipp Walters

First some background. I am a longtime 3D enthusiast, using and writing about 3D applications since the first ones became available on PCs and Macs. Perhaps some of you remember Cubicomp 3D for PCs back in the early 80s, or Super 3D for the Macintosh circa the same timeframe? Since then, I've worked with and wrote about many of the mainstream 3D products including Lightwave, Vue, FormZ, SketchUp, Rhino and many others.

About a year ago, I purchased my first 3D printer. It was the Cubify Cube Series 1 printer from 3D Systems, Inc.. At the time, there wasn't much to go on, as most 3D print hobbyists were mostly interested in building and maintaining their own machines. Other than Makerbot and RepRap devices, there wasn't much being said about new contenders, including the UP! and Cube. In fact finding unbiased reviews was even harder as typically reviewers barely scratched the surface, and you had to spend hours in dedicated forums trying to separate the cheerleading and know-it-alls from valuable content-- which in many cases was pretty much impossible to do. Predictably, each forum claimed their model the superior one. The UP! forum (which is now distributed under the name Afinia in the US) was very new and there wasn't a lot of information about it at the time.

I remember the first few UP! printers were sold for under $1000, and I thought hard about purchasing one, but I decided not to as it was so new.

So, after thinking about it all, I settled on the Cubify Cube for the following reasons.

1. It was manufactured by a notable and reputable company. Knowing this product would be a bleeding edge market leader, I figured they would probably have the best first generation and support of anyone.

2. I didn't want to build or service my own 3D printer. I just wanted it to 'print' reliably without issue. I figured this printer was the best for this task.

3. I found a fellow named Tom Meeks who had a blog on the printer. More than anything else, his easy to follow posts on his experience convinced me this was the right printer for me.

So, I purchased my first Cube for $1300. It was delivered promptly, and was straightforward to setup and delivered a flawless first print of a rook chess piece in ABS. The Series 1 Cube has a heated print bed and the combination of it plus some special glue they provide, help keep parts from warping too bad. The changing print cartridges was easy to do and overall the experience was superb.

Key to this was the simple workflow required to create a 3D print. Super simple and straightforward. First, you removed the magnetically mounted print bed and apply the print glue using the glue stick like applicator. Takes about 20 seconds. Then you put the print bed back on the printer. Assuming you've already got a filament cartridge loaded, the next step is you pop in a USB drive with the print file, and use the printer's small LCD screen and controls to select it, and print it. This typically takes less than a minute. That's it. You're now printing. Super easy and simple.

Sadly, within a month the printhead jammed up with some filament stuck in it. And even more unfortunate is the fact there's no easy way to solve this. So a quick call to the support staff at Cubify and they shipped me a new printhead along with instructions on how to install it. After installing the second one, it still didn't work, so they sent me a new printer. Finally, after about a month of back and forth, the new printer came and it worked flawlessly. I have to say, in my multiple dealings with Cubify support, they always were most eager to help and eventually we got things worked out.

Very soon thereafter, Cubify announced the new Cube Series 2 and CubeX printers. Bummer for me, or so I thought. My printer was less than 90 days old when this happened so I wrote to the VP of marketing asking if there was any trade-in policy. Sadly, no. I was very disappointed.

I merrily continued my weekend 3D printing. I was able to create a number of interesting products, including the creation of a saltwater aquarium media reactor, of which I actually marketed in some local forums and sold a few. As sales started ramping up, I decided to get another printer. I once again did research and I could still not find any in-depth reviews though I did find out some interesting facts about my Cube printer.

The most alarming fact was that the proprietary filament cartridge for the Cube (and CubeX) was seven times the cost of bulk filament you could buy online. Ouch. And this just happened to coincide with three successive orders of cartridges which arrived unusable. Seriously, I purchased three cartridges over two months time, and each time they arrived unusable. Of course support gladly replaced them with working versions, but this did slow things down quite a bit as it took a week to get them, and then another week to receive the replacement cartridge.

Plus, in reading through the Google Groups CubeX threads (for some reason Cubify did not host any of their own forums), it appeared there was a huge shortage of CubeX cartridges. I turned out many CubeX users were unable to use their printers for quite some time because they could not get filament for them. And one couldn't just use other filament as the actual cartridges were DRM'ed-- copy protected with a chip. Turns out Cubify was seriously greedy and wanted to sell for profit both the razors and razor blades.

Still, after quick review and trading emails with Tom Meeks, I ended up purchasing the Series 2 Cube from Cubify. This one printed 2X the speed, used both PLA and ABS (the Series 1 only used ABS), and did away with the heated aluminum print bed and instead used a 'better' and different glass print bed and new type of glue stick.

So, I received my new Cube Series 2. First, the rook printed fine in PLA. And fast, too! Great, so I switched cartridges to ABS and the printhead jammed. They did include a wire tool to try and push the filament through the printhead, but it didn't work. They eventually sent two more printheads. The second printhead worked but now there was a horrendous sound coming from inside the base. So I took off the back and found three fans, one of which was touching a wire. I taped the wire out of the way and the sound stopped.

I tried printing ABS and the filament just wouldn't stick to the non-heated glass bed. I reset the nozzle z-height and then laboriously re-leveled the bed (something no user should have to do on a Cube as it's quite difficult). Still, no good. The ABS prints are much, MUCH worse than on my Series 1.

Finally they said they'd send a new unit, but by now I was pretty much thinking there are just too many flaws with this printer. A faulty printhead which couldn't easily be unjammed. A proprietary cartridge which was often faulty and cost 7X than others. And the last straw, an un-heated glass plate. Frankly, I can't remember when pa version 2 product was this much worse than a version 1 product.

Within a week, my Cube Series 1 printer's head jammed and it would now need another new print head. But this time it was out of the 90 day warranty, and it would cost me $300. Ouch. So, instead of buying a new print head, I figured it was time to move on to another easier to maintain printer.

So, once again, I began in ernest scouring forums looking for my next printer.

After reading a few articles, I decided on the Afinia/UP! printer. It cost $1600 and I purchased it through Octave.com where I bought it and some other goodies in a special sale offering. It has roughly the same print envelope as the Cube (5"x5"x5") and the UP! forum had some helpful folks who could answer questions. I don't mind the smallish print envelope as any 3D object which uses up most of it will take over 8 hours to print. Larger models in larger envelopes would take even longer to print.

It was clear from the start using the Afinia would entail a whole different workflow from the much quicker and simpler Cube. First off, there is no display or USB drive loader. Not to mention the new Afinia required a PC be connected to it in order for it to work. While the Afinia / UP! software had more features, it didn't have some of the nicer 'healing' capabilities the Cubify software used, so I needed to pre-process my STL files before loading them into the UP! software.

As I mentioned, the Cubify workflow is fairly straightforward: Turn on the device, remove the aluminum bed, slap some glue on it, put it back in place, pop in the USB drive, select the model and press PRINT on the LCD screen-- and you can walk away. This all takes just a minute or two at the most. The LCD screen provides status on when the print will be completed.

The Afinia workflow is much more elaborate and time consuming. For me it works like this: Boot up the PC, then the printer. Launch the UP! software. Turn on the heated print platform from the software. Position print platform using the software in order to attach a print plate (perf board or glass) using office clips. Load the STL model. Check the print settings. Wait for the platform to heat up (15 minutes), then press the Print button and it slowly slices the model and transfers it even more slowly to the machine. Once completed, it starts printing. The software displays the completion status.

I'm lucky if this all takes less than 20 minutes. It's quite a bit of work and requires you to be pretty much paying attention the whole time.

One thing to note, the Cubify software imports STL files and creates a .cube file which is all that's needed for printing and includes all the print settings (raft and supports). Only recently has the UP! software started trying to do the same. The advantage of this approach is the print will be exactly the same on any Cubify or Afinia printer if they use their respective all-inclusive file formats. Unfortunately, this is still in beta for the Afinia / UP! software and is not yet available for the Mac platform. In fact most everyone recommends using the PC version as the Mac app is much more limited.

So, that's the bad regarding the Afinia-- tedious workflow, very slow data transfer via USB to the printer, and slow start process. Let's talk about some of the good.

The Afinia prints much higher resolution prints and much more accurate prints than my Cube ever did. The raft and support are SUPER easy to remove. The hardware and software is overall MUCH more customizable, and there are a many more raft and support settings (including NONE). The perf board works great, and I've found printing on a 3rd party Octave glass plate works well too, as long as you use Elmer's purple water soluble glue stick. And I've yet to have a filament jam--and if I do there are great online tutorials for clearing it yourself. This beats having to contact Cubify and having them ship me a new print head for $300.

Plus it uses 3rd party filaments, which is huge! The OEM filament which Afinia sells is top quality, but I've also had great results using Octave filament. In order to use 3rd party filaments, it's important to purchase a 3rd party temperature switch. I bought my Afinia from Octave and also purchased their 2-position switch. Most 3rd party filament, including Octave's, are best extruded using the low temperature switch setting.

The Afinia prints PLA, ABS, Nylon and many other types of plastics as well.

And, a huge plus, is the PP3DP.com UP! forum which is most helpful. Afinia also comes with a 1 year warranty, and you can purchase a second year extension as well.

Also, leveling the print bed is significantly easier to do using thumbscrews on the Afinia. The Cubify requires a hex wrench and is seriously8 more difficult to get level. Both are fairly easy to set the print z-gap, with the Cubify being slightly easier.

So, unless all you intend to print is PLA, I cannot recommend the Cubify Series 2 Cube printer. It breaks too easily and is quite expensive to fix after the warranty runs out.

Furthermore, the DRM'd filament cartridges at seven times the price of traditional filament should be a non-starter for most. Especially considering you rarely ever 'finish' a cartridge.

I'm hoping Afinia and UP! spend a bit more time paying attention to workflow and speed up the setup process. Other than that, I have to say I recommend this printer. The quality is superb. In fact I've had engineers tell me my prints rival their professional 3D printer's quality. So, I don't mind spending a bit more time upfront to have more accuracy and surface quality, especially since I no longer fear the dreaded filament jam requiring a whole new print head.

roller
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Re: Attempt at non-biased in-depth review: Afinia vs Cube

Post by roller » Sun Oct 27, 2013 3:01 am

Good summary though I don't find startup takes me anywhere near that long... 7 mins tops. Power on, initialise, setup and connect laptop, open software (Mac), Maintenance->Heat platform 1 Hour, load model, align/flip (I often want it printed to a different orientation), wait until bed hit 95+C, hit print, once uploaded (software uploads a little faster than it used to on windows and is getting faster on Mac), unplug and walk away. Also, doing print for print comparisons if your print is a decent size you get your (20min) startup time back because the Cube (1 at least) prints slower than my Up! Plus.

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Re: Attempt at non-biased in-depth review: Afinia vs Cube

Post by chippwalters » Sun Oct 27, 2013 4:31 am

Seems like you're quite a bit quicker than me. Just booting up my Mac, launching UP software and initializing and start heating the platform is a bit over 4 minutes. And my platform never get's to 100% heated in under 10 minutes. Your UP Plus does have USB 2.0 so the load is quicker. Lots of my prints are fairly complex, like the one below. Rarely can I walk away in under 20 minutes.

https://www.dropbox.com/s/fz2n3eq03byf6 ... 3.jpg?dl=1

roller
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Re: Attempt at non-biased in-depth review: Afinia vs Cube

Post by roller » Sun Oct 27, 2013 11:13 am

chippwalters wrote:Seems like you're quite a bit quicker than me. Just booting up my Mac, launching UP software and initializing and start heating the platform is a bit over 4 minutes. And my platform never get's to 100% heated in under 10 minutes. Your UP Plus does have USB 2.0 so the load is quicker. Lots of my prints are fairly complex, like the one below. Rarely can I walk away in under 20 minutes.

https://www.dropbox.com/s/fz2n3eq03byf6 ... 3.jpg?dl=1
Hmmm, I'd say that's comparable to the complexity of my prints but that stuff is always hard to guesstimate by eying a model. Not sure what you mean about my Up Plus being USB 2.0 ... only the Up Plus V2 has a speed advantage. The Afinia is exactly the same as my printer. bar a few stickers and the odd design tweak.

I forgot to mention I cheat a little on the heated bed by putting a silicon pot stand on the build platform while it heats. It's a habit from my reprap days and so much so I don't even think about it. Finally, I only shut down my Mac once a week at best so I'm only ever waking Mountain Lion from sleep. I'll be jumping to Mavericks next week - hopefully that wont be too much heartache.

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Re: Attempt at non-biased in-depth review: Afinia vs Cube

Post by chippwalters » Sun Oct 27, 2013 11:21 am

OOPs, my bad. I thought you were saying you had an UP! Plus 2. Yes, if you wake your Mac from sleep, then it does go quite a bit quicker. I don't know what you mean by "putting a silicon pot stand on the build platform"? Can you explain a bit more? How does it help heat the platform quicker?

Good luck with Mavericks. I tried DL'ing it 2 or 3 times and it just kept timing out. I guess everyone wants a free update! Hope it works with the UP! software okay.

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Re: Attempt at non-biased in-depth review: Afinia vs Cube

Post by RINGMASTER » Sun Oct 27, 2013 2:27 pm

I've have a similar background. Bought for my design department a 3D Systems Stereo Lithography Machine about 20 years ago. So I was hyped when #D Systems hit the market with a machine I could afford that would run on my desk in my retirement apartment. So I immediately bought a Cube 1. Didn't have as many problems as you report. Only the filament cartridge that came with the machine was jammed, but quickly replaced. I have a hobby building model circus items and had a ball testing the potential and limits of the Cube. My preferred scale of 1/8 inch to the foot, about HO, really pushes the lower limits of any of these machines. (Anyone running a Form 1?)

When I discovered m_bergman's Reims Cathedral Kitset on Thingiverse, I had to print it if nothing else as tribute to his magnificent modeling job and supporting documentation. Well assembly was a bear! The parts off of the Cube did not fit without major surgery--sanding and carving. Bergman's own model was printed on a UP! and assembly was apparently no problem. About that time I learned that the US OEM for UP!, Afinia, headquarters was about 20 minutes from my home. I visited them, saw their operation, talked with managers and engineers and bought one within the week. I never redid the cathedral, but printed a couple of parts with the Afinia and assembly was much easier. Now, I think the problem stems from the model, which was based on one of those paper cutout models one buys in book stores. The paper model has tabs and slots to make the assembly. I think the Cube tries to print the tabs, but the filament bloats so they are too fat for the slots. I think Afinia software simply decides the tabs are too thin and ignores them. I have not proved this.

But I am no longer running both machines. I much prefer the Afinia particularly using a glass table (5.5 inch plates cut to order at local hardware store for 50 cents a piece coated with a slurry of ABS dissolved in acetone.) I get much better resolution, a bit more control of build parameters--important when pushing the lower limits of the printer, and much, much cheaper filament than my now unused Cube.

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Re: Attempt at non-biased in-depth review: Afinia vs Cube

Post by JuliaDee » Sun Oct 27, 2013 3:38 pm

I have a $600 Win 7 machine hooked to my printers full-time so there's never a boot or launch issue. I usually hit "Print" when the platform is around 60C, unless I'm printing something I know has a serious warpage issue. By the time it's sliced and sent and the raft laid down, the platform is plenty hot enough. Subsequent prints are even faster since the platform is still warm. My time from printer-on to print start is way less than 20 minutes. The longest step with my Up is waiting for the extruder to come up to temp - I've actually installed a switch to turn off the fan to speed it up - but the Afinia is much faster, possibly because of the newer low-mass heater block.

I don't know about the Cube slicer, but I know the pp3dp slicer is a lot faster than a lot of the open source ones - I've read comments from people complaining about 20 minute slicer times on Thingiverse, downloaded the same model, and seen the Up slice it in about 20 seconds. It's also capable of slicing models that many people say the open-source slicers won't slice at all without errors.

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Re: Attempt at non-biased in-depth review: Afinia vs Cube

Post by DrewPetitclerc » Sun Oct 27, 2013 6:10 pm

JuliaDee wrote:It's also capable of slicing models that many people say the open-source slicers won't slice at all without errors.
I would heartily agree with Julia, I recently put up on thingiverse my model of a phone cover and someone said it would not print correctly so they ran the STL file through an Autodesk CAD program to create a new STL that worked with Slic3r, all my models are created with SolidWorks and I have never had an issue with un-solid models or an issue with the UP software and yes on a fast computer even large complex models slice in under a minute, the only bottle neck seems to be the USB pipeline.

Also like Julia, I only ever need to preheat to about 60c before I hit the print button and those are my instructions on all the printers at work to the engineers that I trained to use them.

Regards
Drew
Drew Petitclerc
Petitclerc Designs
Owner/Senior Principal Designer, prototype, tooling and test equipment design and 3D printing
http://flash-graphics.deviantart.com/
http://www.thingiverse.com/DrewPetitclerc

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Re: Attempt at non-biased in-depth review: Afinia vs Cube

Post by roller » Mon Oct 28, 2013 5:16 am

DrewPetitclerc wrote:
JuliaDee wrote:It's also capable of slicing models that many people say the open-source slicers won't slice at all without errors.
I would heartily agree with Julia, I recently put up on thingiverse my model of a phone cover and someone said it would not print correctly so they ran the STL file through an Autodesk CAD program to create a new STL that worked with Slic3r, all my models are created with SolidWorks and I have never had an issue with un-solid models or an issue with the UP software and yes on a fast computer even large complex models slice in under a minute, the only bottle neck seems to be the USB pipeline.

Also like Julia, I only ever need to preheat to about 60c before I hit the print button and those are my instructions on all the printers at work to the engineers that I trained to use them.

Regards
Drew
Every slicer including the Up software gets tripped up by something and sometimes you can find it happens more often because parts of your toolpath (or even features within your toolpath) are incompatible. If I am working within Sketchup there are tools that will always trip up some slicer or another and of course Sketchup, being s surface modeller is really prone to unsolid models. As Drew suggests though, the better commercial offerings which are design specifically for this prototype kind of modelling seem to produce less hiccups and some of the free options do a better job than others also.

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Re: Attempt at non-biased in-depth review: Afinia vs Cube

Post by Neal » Mon Oct 28, 2013 2:41 pm

I don't know what you mean by "putting a silicon pot stand on the build platform"? Can you explain a bit more? How does it help heat the platform quicker?
I assume roller is talking about using a trivet, or an insulating hot pad, that you put on a table to keep a hot dish from ruining the finish on a table. I have a piece of cardboard that I put on my glass build plate to help retain heat while warming it up. The corners of the cardboard are clipped off to clear the "bulldog clips" that hold my glass build plate in place.

It more then cuts in half the time required to heat up the build plate. I just have to remember to remove it before hitting the print button.

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Re: Attempt at non-biased in-depth review: Afinia vs Cube

Post by JuliaDee » Mon Oct 28, 2013 2:47 pm

chippwalters wrote:I was able to create a number of interesting products, including the creation of a saltwater aquarium media reactor, of which I actually marketed in some local forums and sold a few. As sales started ramping up, I decided to get another printer.
Since you mention a production environment, I'll just point out, in case you're not aware, that the Up has a "Print Again" feature, which completely eliminates the need to re-slice and upload code for each duplicate print. Basically you're ready to print another part as quickly as you can swap print beds.

julia

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Re: Attempt at non-biased in-depth review: Afinia vs Cube

Post by m_bergman » Mon Oct 28, 2013 8:35 pm

RINGMASTER wrote:Now, I think the problem stems from the model, which was based on one of those paper cutout models one buys in book stores. The paper model has tabs and slots to make the assembly. I think the Cube tries to print the tabs, but the filament bloats so they are too fat for the slots. I think Afinia software simply decides the tabs are too thin and ignores them. I have not proved this.
Actually, the model was designed for butt-joint or socketed glued assembly. No thin tabs in slots. The only thing the paper model gave me was dimensional assistance. Looking at the picture of your print, I would conclude that the Cubify is significantly less accurate as regards surface detail.

I also start sending the print when the bed reaches 60-70c, unless it is a very large part, or nylon.

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Re: Attempt at non-biased in-depth review: Afinia vs Cube

Post by roller » Wed Oct 30, 2013 6:48 am

Neal wrote:
I don't know what you mean by "putting a silicon pot stand on the build platform"? Can you explain a bit more? How does it help heat the platform quicker?
I assume roller is talking about using a trivet, or an insulating hot pad, that you put on a table to keep a hot dish from ruining the finish on a table. I have a piece of cardboard that I put on my glass build plate to help retain heat while warming it up. The corners of the cardboard are clipped off to clear the "bulldog clips" that hold my glass build plate in place.

It more then cuts in half the time required to heat up the build plate. I just have to remember to remove it before hitting the print button.
Google trivet lets me say yes that is what I am talking about. I have a bunch of silicone ones because I use them as the bed spring system in my reprap design. It's an excellent insulator and being soft sift flat on the board even as it warms stopping any air from circulating. Corrugated core card would also do a good job though I imagine does tend to warp but that's a good trade off for $8 :)

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Re: Attempt at non-biased in-depth review: Afinia vs Cube

Post by chippwalters » Mon Nov 04, 2013 1:24 am

JuliaDee wrote:I have a $600 Win 7 machine hooked to my printers full-time so there's never a boot or launch issue. I usually hit "Print" when the platform is around 60C, unless I'm printing something I know has a serious warpage issue. By the time it's sliced and sent and the raft laid down, the platform is plenty hot enough. Subsequent prints are even faster since the platform is still warm. My time from printer-on to print start is way less than 20 minutes. The longest step with my Up is waiting for the extruder to come up to temp - I've actually installed a switch to turn off the fan to speed it up - but the Afinia is much faster, possibly because of the newer low-mass heater block.

I don't know about the Cube slicer, but I know the pp3dp slicer is a lot faster than a lot of the open source ones - I've read comments from people complaining about 20 minute slicer times on Thingiverse, downloaded the same model, and seen the Up slice it in about 20 seconds. It's also capable of slicing models that many people say the open-source slicers won't slice at all without errors.
Thanks for the 60C tip. I'll be sure and try it!

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Re: Attempt at non-biased in-depth review: Afinia vs Cube

Post by chippwalters » Mon Nov 04, 2013 1:25 am

Neal wrote:
I don't know what you mean by "putting a silicon pot stand on the build platform"? Can you explain a bit more? How does it help heat the platform quicker?
I assume roller is talking about using a trivet, or an insulating hot pad, that you put on a table to keep a hot dish from ruining the finish on a table. I have a piece of cardboard that I put on my glass build plate to help retain heat while warming it up. The corners of the cardboard are clipped off to clear the "bulldog clips" that hold my glass build plate in place.

It more then cuts in half the time required to heat up the build plate. I just have to remember to remove it before hitting the print button.
Another great tip. Much appreciated!

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Re: Attempt at non-biased in-depth review: Afinia vs Cube

Post by chippwalters » Mon Nov 04, 2013 1:27 am

JuliaDee wrote:
chippwalters wrote:I was able to create a number of interesting products, including the creation of a saltwater aquarium media reactor, of which I actually marketed in some local forums and sold a few. As sales started ramping up, I decided to get another printer.
Since you mention a production environment, I'll just point out, in case you're not aware, that the Up has a "Print Again" feature, which completely eliminates the need to re-slice and upload code for each duplicate print. Basically you're ready to print another part as quickly as you can swap print beds.

julia
Thanks, Julia. I did know about that one. It sure would be nice if the next version has a USB thumbdrive option.

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Re: Attempt at non-biased in-depth review: Afinia vs Cube

Post by ahntlia » Thu Feb 13, 2014 3:43 am

Does anyone has the STL Rook file for testing on the UP mini??

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