It is with great sadness that I learned of the demise of my favorite tabletop FDM 3D Printer, the Cube from 3D Systems. As those of you who read my blog know, I was converted when I took a road trip with a Cube that performed like a champ. The latest model, the Cube3, had what was in my opinion a most elegant engineering solution to the ubiquitous extrusion clogging problem. The print tips were built right into the filament cartridges so that every time you changed filament, you’d get a brand new tip. Brilliant!
The Cube was great for demos. Small enough to carry in its box with built-in handles, it was often the star at Maker Faires, schools, libraries and Fab Labs. 3D Printing outside the maker movement is still a little scary, and non-technical folk were not intimidated due to its Apple-like design. One middle-aged teacher, exclaimed, “it’s so cute!” and I knew I had her hooked!
So what happened? I’ve often raved that former 3D Systems CEO Avi Reichenthal was one of the few visionaries in the field who understood that good product design was needed to make the leap from early adopters [mostly middle-aged white DIY guys] to the mainstream market for consumer 3D Printers. Trouble is, he was ahead of his time.
In my opinion, people outside the maker movement were slow to catch on to the potential of the machines and 3D Systems didn’t realize how much support was needed to sell them. Putting them into Staples was a huge step toward reaching the consumer market, but my experience in the stores that carried them was disappointing and as I wrote about in July of 2013 Staples just didn’t seem ready to start selling 3D Printers. The staff had not been properly trained on this new technology which required a lot of customer education. Fab Lab Hub which has ties to many maker spaces tried to match up Staples stores with makers for training, demos, etc. but the PR team who handled the account internally could not respond to our offers of help.
If I were 3D Systems, I would most likely have chosen the same strategy: focusing on high end machines for industry and professional machines for rapid prototyping and higher education. But I am really sad to see the Cube go…hopefully some enterprising company will pick up the extrusion tip design solution. Until then, I’m treating my Cube3 lovingly, to extend its life for at least the next 5 years while I’ll still be able to purchase cartridges.