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Z Corp 650: Test build

Published 15 December 2008

Posted by Al Dean

Article tagged with: solidworks, rapid prototyping, 3d printing, z corporation, z650, stl, vrml output

One of the best things about this job is that we get to test drive all of the latest bits of technology and for me, there’s nothing more satisfying than sending off some data to an rapid prototyping vendor and waiting for that FedEx box to arrive back in the mail. if you’re going to write about these machines, then surely you need to try them out, see what they can do - right?*

Anyway, today brought me a test assembly build from Z Corp, over in MA. The Z 650 is the company’s high-end machine, bigger build chamber (@254 x 381 x 203 mm), fastest printing (2 to 4 layers a minute - layer size being between 0.089–0.102 mm ) and it’ll build in full colour at 600 x 540 dpi. The machine also sees a new black binder introduced, so for those working with darker colours, less ink is used as it doesn’t have to make up that black from the others. It also introduces the integrated clean up station that debuted with the 410 last year, so mess is reduced greatly.

So, here’s what its like receiving a rapid prototype in the mail:

#1: Start in SolidWorks, create the model. you then output the data to either STL if you’re working with a colourless RP process (pretty much everything else other than Z Corp). With Z Corp, it supports colour, so use it, and to do that, you need a VRML (.wrl) file. Waiting a while and then you get excited, you get the email notification that your part is being dispatched..

#2: Box arrives with glee on your behalf, absolute horror on the behalf of your significant other (if you work at home - and do excuse the state of the kitchen).

#3: This thing looks sweet. Build is very stable, finished nicely (Z Corp have been working with us long enough to know not to mess with the results - unlike some other vendors).

#4: This thing maxes out the Z650’s build chamber in length, so shows what it’s capable of in terms of size - this is around 13.5-14” high.

#5: Details are nicely replicated, you’d have very little finishing to do with this model before a presentation with a client. With the colour Zprints, you have to be careful with too much aggressive finishing as the coloured binder is only printed on a few mms thick ‘into’ the material.

But what about the colours? I was pretty surprised. Look at the first image - Black, White, Red. Not this. I spent some time going through the assembly file to remove the colour that existed on the model (as have been built), using the Appearances funcitonality in SolidWorks (itself not an easy task). Go the model in a nice state and exported the VRML file and sendspace’d it off to Z Corp - who duly built the model and sent it back. I’m in touch with the SolidWorks guys to find out what’s going on with this and I’ll post an update here when I get some feedback.

But if it proves anything, it proves two things:

  • a) the Z Corp 640 Z printer is an incredible peice of kit and can generate stunning vivid coloured models at a scale that’s increasingly in demend in a very wide spread of industries (including architecture in a big way).
  • b) it proves that user error is inevitable. I thought I’d have know after all these years to double check the geometry I’m sending out, that it’s what’s needed at the other end and suits my purposes. You live and learn I guess. I thought I was going to get back a slick looking model in three colours. I got back a brightly coloured model that looks pretty cool on my desk, but doesn’t quite match up with expectations in terms of appearance. That said, they do match Greg’s shiny/horrid new trainers.

January’s Develop3D will feature an indepth of the Z650 - so stay tuned or register if you haven’t already.

*OK, so not all magazine’s do it - they should…

View comments (9 comments) SolidWorks Social Support Mechanism

Published 14 December 2008

Posted by Al Dean

Article tagged with: solidworks, training, social media, informal support, learning, support,,

A couple of issues ago, I talked about how the death of the printed manual perhaps stifles the learning process for complex 3D modelling systems (yes, they are still complex). As part of that, we talked about how those informal learning methods, those that fit into the working day, give you the insider knowledge, the tips and tricks that take you from being an average user to expert in no time at all. Alongside manuals, the other big one is peer support. When you have a group of users working in the same system, knowledge gets shared, tips and hints shouted across the office, by email even.

Now, think about that in the context of today’s hyper-connected world, where people are connected together: whether it’s facebook, twitter, linkedin. Is there potential for the world of technical software and 3D CAD in particular, to take advantage of the social media revolution? You see it everywhere, people helping each other out with problems, with software issues and beyond, whether behind closed doors on vendor support forums, user groups. But can this be brought into the interface to keep you focussed on the group at hand, stop you from twitching for that alt-tab keycombo?

Ben Eadie, professional Canadian, world record holder, video star and creator of has just launched an interesting service, called It follows a very simple premise. Connect up SolidWorks users, provide a method for users to ask questions about issues they can’t figure out and other users answer them or give a few hints. The premise is simple and from what can be seen, pretty effective. What’s really interesting is that Ben’s just released an add-in for SolidWorks that gives access to this resource from with the navigation pane of SolidWorks. There are plans for a few extra tools, such as tools that will capture a screenshot and post it on the site, as well as pack and go your data for passing around problems. The whole thing is pretty nice and its interesting seeing how Ben’s developing it in very quick reaction to users requests and issues.

The work to integrate it into the SolidWorks UI is fascinating, but what really interests me is how this formalises a lot of the things that go on outside of a vendor’s control. Yes, many users have support contracts with resellers, but there are many that don’t; whether that’s students or professionals that simply can’t justify the support/maintenance costs. There’s also the fact that its often quicker to get a response in this way than going through a reseller. There are support forums run by SolidWorks, but again, this is a much more informal thing - quick questions, quick answers. Best way I’ve thought of describing it is a social support mechanism for SolidWorks, without the group therapy and 12 steps; and it’s fascinating.

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Lenovo W700DS - industrial design on the go

Published 12 December 2008

Posted by Greg Corke

Article tagged with: manufacturing, cam, delcam, powermill, cnc, featurecam, return on investment, g code

Mobile workstations are all the same. They’ve all got the same processors, same graphics, same memory and hard drives, right?

Wrong. This latest one from Lenovo is different. As you’ll see from the pic, it’s got a 10-inch colour display which pulls out from the main 17-inch screen; it also has a built in 128 x 80mm Wacom digitizer (and pen) and an integrated Pantone colour calibrator.

This is surely every industrial designer’s idea of mobile heaven - the ability to sketch out your designs on a colour accurate screen, and have all of your tool palettes set off to the side so you’ve got 17-inches of uninterrupted design space is pretty darn compelling. It’s also a powerful beast, so things don’t have to slow down when you start to formalise your design in 3D.

It looks like Santa will be bringing me one for Christmas (but unlike a puppy this will be just for Christmas as I have to give it back) so we’ll be taking a closer look at Lenovo’s W700 and a host of other mobile workstations in the January print/PDF edition of DEVELOP3D.

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Code it, Cut it, Ship It - Now that’s ROI

Published 11 December 2008

Posted by Al Dean

Article tagged with:

I spent today at Delcam‘s HQ just a few miles from where I live (which is a distinct pleasure, there’s no jetlag involved in travelling to Small Heath, Birmingham) and we went through the latest releases of both PowerMill and FeatureCAM, both CAM /NC programing products, but two very different systems, aimed at pretty different spectrums of the user community. But what struck me while going through the updates, is that CAM, often in stark constrat to 3D CAD, provides a more easily identifiable return on investment for adoption of new releases.

Take the latest releases of your workhorse CAD system. Yes, there’s some new things in there. In some major packages, there have been some pretty revolutionary updates to core technology this year. That said, ask yourself, over the last, say three years, what has each release actually brought to you as a user and your company? Can you get your job done more quickly, to a better quality, to a higher degree of accuracy - to any great extent or are you still using the tools as you did 3 years ago? I’m guess it would be very hard to quantify such things in such explicit terms.

CAM, on the other hand, differs. And differs Greatly.

CAM is all about speed and quality. Speed in terms of programming the part from your client (either an internal customer or an external client) and getting the NC code ready to upload to the machine controller. the quicker you do it, the quicker you can start cutting material. When it comes to the actual NC code, the more efficient it is, the greater the surface finish you can achieve off the machine tool (which reduces hand finishing) and the quicker the job is done, out the door and on its way to the client. The more profitable your business is. If a machine shop isn’t cutting metal, it’s loosing money - its as cut-throat as that.

CAM is key to doing that correctly. if you cut metal, to a higher quality in a shorter space of time, its worth the investment - particularly if you can squeeze more out of your machine tool investment, which typically greatly out weight the cost of the maintenance. Take the following example:

#1: This is a perfect example showing a reasonably complex simultaneous 5-axis toolpath - you can see from the video that the table and head movement are erratic. That means cutter loading is inconsistent, there are dramatic changes speed and feed and the whole thing adds up to poor quality surface finish..

#2: This video shows the same toolpath with Azimuth smoothing applied (as found in PowerMill9). You can see that the application of the new smoothing algorithms has a dramatic effect on the tool-path and machine movement - and that will always result in a better surface finish. When you’re dealing with machining, that’s worth its weight in gold.

If you are a PowerMill customer, then you get this upgrade if you’re on maintenance. if you use 5 axis, then your machine will last longer (due to reduced stress), your cutters will last longer and you’ll get a higher quality part, in a shorter space of time. Now THAT is Return on Investment.

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