Tuesday, March 14, 2017

10 'New' Cube3 Cartridges - 7 Defective... so far

As most of you know, I know, and like, many of the engineers and support people at 3D Systems.  So, I'm generally slow to be critical.

But, unfortunately, what I feared most about the withdrawal of the Cube3 from the marketplace, out-dated cartridges, seems to have come true.

We just purchased 10 'new' cartridges for our Cube3 printers.  I've opened and tried to use seven (7) so far.  And, all seven have had the very same issue.  The filament has broken at the entrance to the extrusion housing.

Seven out of ten... so far!

Now, I have been dealing with these cartridges for a number of years now.  So, I know HOW to fix a cartridge if I have to.  But, having to fix more than a half dozen if no fun at all.

Calling support to alert them to the problem, the response I got wasn't encouraging.  The last four digits of the batch numbers were 2916.  This meant that the cartridge was built in the 29th week of 2016.  That would be the week of July 10-17, 2016.   Apparently, 3D Systems assumes that filament, in the protective bag and sealed box, has a shelf life of at least one year.  Yet, our filament was opened in March of 2017... less than 9 months later!

My guess is that filament packaged in the winter month might actually be OK for 12 months.  But, filament packaged in the humid months of summer may not last quite as long.

This is a serious issue for owners of cube3 printers.  Even if one knows how to try to rehabilitate a cartridge, it takes a lot of time and aggravation.  Plus, it's difficult to do just using the purge function of the Cube3.  The heat cycle does not last long enough and we have no way to control the duration of optimal heat at the tip of the print jet.

While I have resisted publishing 'hacks', I am coming to the conclusion that we have no alternative in order to be able to use our Cube3 printers on demand.  While I have some sympathy for 3D System's situation... having to stock multiple colors of filament for a diminishing number of users... if we cannot count on them for good filament when we need it, we are forced to try to come up with alternatives if we can.

Even with the tools that I have purchased and designed to help me restore a broken cartridge, it takes at least an hour to fix one.  And, some, will take even more effort.  Fortunately, I have some empty cartridges from which I can steal the guide should I not be able to use the original quide in the broken cartridge.  I think those old cartridges might come in handy!

If I'm ever able to complete the project for which the filament was purchased, I start searching for 'hacks' that might help us out in the future.


  1. I've been able to repair a fresh-out-of-the-box failed cartridge in about fifteen minutes, but that might be due to my position as Cube3 advisor to the local public library, keeping their printer operational. With another set of hands, I can get it to ten minutes or less.

    Regarding hacks, there is a proven firmware upgrade which prevents the cartridge chip from being written with new values. One uses the original firmware to initialize a fresh cartridge, then re-flashes the printer to the mod. At that point onward, the cartridge will remain at 99 percent. When it empties, it can be respooled if there are no mechanical failures.

    Unfortunately, the mechanical failures have yet to be hacked. In the case of the library printer, the bowden tube gets punctured, removing that cartridge from service.

    I'm planning to meet with the library's makerspace director to attempt an implementation of DIY Suguru wrapped around the puncture, to determine if that will enable the cartridge to be placed into service again.

    The location for the firmware mod is here:

    It's easy to flash to the mod and to flash back to the original as needed, then return to the mod. There's no other operational difference beyond the chip update, as far as I can determine.

    The 3Guys behind this mod are planning a Kickstarter project which will modify the chip rather than the firmware, but it appears that it will be somewhat pricey, while the firmware mod is currently free.

  2. There is a bunch of us at http://www.print3dforum.com/forumdisplay.php/31-Cube3 who are working on different mods to the hardware of the cartridge to make it more reliable and easier to work with.

    They started with modifying the tubing that goes from the cartridge to the hot end. Recently, Megalodon in the forums has designed a replacement for the cartridge allow you to easily use bulk filament.

    Very interesting stuff being done.