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Can the Lix 3D Printing Pen Actually Work? 90

Posted by timothy
from the steady-hand-needed dept.
szczys (3402149) writes "Brian Benchoff used science and math to prove that the performance shown in the Lix Kickstarter video is questionable at best. Check his evidence and see if he's done an appropriate job of debunking the functionality presented." From the Hackaday post: "While we know the video is an outright misrepresentation of what any USB 3 powered device can do, We can’t figure out if the Lix is a viable product. We’re turning to you. Can you figure out if the Lix pen actually works? All we know is the Lix pen has a 4.5 Watt power supply from a USB 3 port. It’s possible for a USB 3 powered 3D printing pen to work, albeit slowly, but the engineering is difficult and we don’t know if the Lix team has the chops."
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Can the Lix 3D Printing Pen Actually Work?

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  • by Lumpio- (986581) on Saturday May 03, 2014 @03:28PM (#46909363)
    If they hadn't cut small parts out of their video every time the pen was shown in action.
    • by xclr8r (658786) on Saturday May 03, 2014 @04:02PM (#46909517)
      Other than the power charging elements.. this doesn't seem too much more complicated than a "hot glue gun sculpture" . Search engine it.
      • by Anubis IV (1279820) on Saturday May 03, 2014 @04:08PM (#46909543)

        It really isn't, but the issue here is that the differences in the properties of ABS plastic and the power source mean that this simply isn't possible as presented. A glue gun is powered from a wall, whereas this device is powered over USB. And typical glue in a glue gun melts at a fraction of the temperature that ABS plastic melts at.

        • by Anonymous Coward

          Hot melt glue guns have to melt the end of a large-diameter cylinder of plastic. The lix melts just the tip of a 1.75mm cylinder. Much less wattage is needed. I don't know if enough wattage is available from a USB connection, but it may be. I can easily imagine a 2 or 3 watt light bulb melting the plastic fast enough. I think the USB spec is 4.5 watts at 5v.

          The lix is still just a hot-melt glue gun, though a smaller version than commonly seen. There doesn't seem to be a claim on the lix website that it is c

          • by ShieldW0lf (601553) on Saturday May 03, 2014 @05:27PM (#46909875) Journal

            Hot melt glue guns have to melt the end of a large-diameter cylinder of plastic. The lix melts just the tip of a 1.75mm cylinder. Much less wattage is needed. I don't know if enough wattage is available from a USB connection, but it may be. I can easily imagine a 2 or 3 watt light bulb melting the plastic fast enough. I think the USB spec is 4.5 watts at 5v.

            The lix is still just a hot-melt glue gun, though a smaller version than commonly seen. There doesn't seem to be a claim on the lix website that it is controlled in any way by the computer, only that it is powered by a USB source. It could just as easily be powered by an external battery or power brick. Any resulting sculpture would be created in real time in the user's hand, and would not be designed before hand.

            This. The novelty is the ability to extrude by pushing a button instead of shoving the material in manually.

            The disclaimer above the video clearly says that portions of the video have been accelerated. Which is normal when watching demos of 3D printers, and also normal when watching artists demonstrate their process via video. So, you could hardly claim it was misleading or deceptive.

            There's nothing indicating that there isn't a warm up time involved in using the pen, just like any other glue gun. It would seem pretty self evident to me that there's some sort of thermal mass inside the pen, surrounded by an insulating sheath to protect the users hands, and that you have to let it sit and warm up before you use it.

            Did anyone else realize Brian Benchoff's not exactly "Mr Wizard' when they read the second paragraph of his post?

            The device is powered through a USB 3 port. In the video, the Lix team is using a MacBook Pro. This has a USB port capable of delivering 900 mA at 5 Volts, or 4.5 Watts. Another 3D printing pen, the 3Doodler, uses a 2A, 12V power adapter, equal to 24 Watts. Considering the 3Doodler works, and they both do the same basic thing, there’s something extremely odd going on here.

            All I could think was "Did you see that nerd pick up that pen? That nerd is a scrawny wimp. A football player is much stronger. Considering that football players can pick up a pen, there's something extremely odd going on here."

        • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

          by thunderclap (972782)
          There are UBS wall outlets now so your comment is moot. Also, there was an assumption that it was powered by a macbook although the editing didn't show that. Sadly, Hackaday is about re-purposing electronics in new different ways. A skilled person could make a windows laptop inside a macbook shell, sand off the apple, put a pear on it (its a Nickelodeon thing) and then do the same video. That shows how pointless his argument was. The pen does have the ability to get hot enough to melt abs. USB specs for 3 a
        • by Mirar (264502)

          I have a wireless glue gun (Bosch, works excellently).

          I have a hard time seeing why I would want a 3d printing pen that wasn't wireless.

      • by Lumpio- (986581)
        I'm fully aware that given the correct technology and parameters this is well in the realm of possibility. The particular video just doesn't instil confidence in me.
        • by rioki (1328185)

          Funny you would say this. I think I would have more trust if they would have used real artists being really astonished by the product, rather a few hipsters doing bad acting under a terrible effect that looks like an instagram filter. Also someone actually using the pen in wider shot may also have helped... The entire video smells of excessive fake marketing hype and that basically means a crap product.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday May 03, 2014 @03:30PM (#46909373)

    Anyone else sick and tired of the overblown hype, the ridiculous promises and the fanboi delusions? It's molten plastic. I have a hot glue gun already, thanks.

    I am baffled at what problem this is solving, what need it addresses and who would buy it?

    • But, but, but,... Didn't you see that shirt. Only a 3D pen can do that cut-out back design.

      I'm also sick of everything first being shown to draw pictures of naked women. Not that I don't like pictures of naked women, but does that have to be the go-to selling point?

      • by jklovanc (1603149)

        Didn't you see that shirt.

        Do you mean the shirt that would be destroyed the first time it came into contact with a couch or chair back when the wearer sat down? Then there is the issue of washing the garment. Yeah, I agree, just ore stupid hype to get money from stupid people.

      • by mark_reh (2015546)

        You just don't get it. Naked women are ART!

    • by Anonymous Coward

      I presume you're still running a Commodore 64, then. How's that working out for you?

      • Re: (Score:1, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward

        I presume you're comparing information processing to manipulating matter? How fast did a 747 fly in 1985? How fast does it fly now, even with fancy new computers?

        Computers have been solving problems since the census, artillery tables, computing payrolls, scientific problems.

        Ask a Commodore 64 what is 2+2 and you get 4. You got 4 then, you get 4 now. You also got 4 on an Atari, and Apple, or a mainframe, or a PC, or a supercomputer.

        3D printing is more like getting 3.9 if you're extra-careful and skilled, and

    • by laird (2705)

      It's making something like 3D printing accessible to people who aren't into CAD. I have had a 3Doodler for a few months, and it's been a huge hit with my daughters, who are very artistic but not CAD-oriented. Even though it's the same extruder and plastic, the experience of drawing with plastic is very different from 3D printing with a printer, and it appeals to different people.

      For some examples, see: http://kickrev.blogspot.com/20... [blogspot.com] .

  • Duh. (Score:4, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday May 03, 2014 @03:41PM (#46909417)

    Of course it can work, just not continuously at that feed rate.
    Ever had a cheap hot glue gun where you had to wait north of a minute after not even half a stick so the internal thermal mass can heat back up to working temp? Same idea.

    • No mod points here, but hopefully my reply will draw some your way. Seems like a pretty reasonable assumption.

    • by AK Marc (707885)
      The pen is also huge for what it does. Maybe it has batteries inside and charges them when the power isn't needed for direct heating. The other thing that the claims aren't clear on is the power draw. USB3 can provide 100W. The 4.5W is an assumption based on the chassis holding the USB port. Who says they can't gut a MacBook for a trial? Though the wording in the video says "any USB" not "USB 3.0 capable of 100W operation". The debunk article makes so many assumptions that aren't in evidence that it
  • Wrong math (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Doub (784854) on Saturday May 03, 2014 @03:51PM (#46909471)
    Hackaday's maths are wrong, they build it on the assumption that a length of filament clearly shorter than two fingers width is 13cm long. Hackaday's news quality has been going down lately, I wonder why Slashdot is quoting them more and more.
    • Another assumption is that the pen is being used continuously. But what if the pen has a little battery/charger inside?

      • by Rei (128717)

        Exactly. That's like saying a 1.3hp compressor can't run a nail gun, operating on the assumption that you're constantly shooting nails out of it. Most hand work involves periods of activity mixed with periods of rest in-between.Depending on the task, a few seconds to a few minutes of buffer is usually enough. Even if we assume 10 minutes buffer, at an average of 4.5W that's 0.75Wh. If we assume a low li-ion energy density of 100Wh/kg (laptop cells are more like 200Wh/kg), that's a 7.6 gram battery. Is that

    • I agree - that's nowhere near 13cm, unless the demonstrator is Andre the Giant.

      Which it can't be :(

    • by AK Marc (707885)
      They also make the assumption that a MacBook-looking computer must be a MacBook, even when it isn't stated in the video. If I wanted to make my pen look cool, I'd put a 100W USB 3.0 port into a chassis that others would assume would be something different. That the technical details are so light on the kickstarter page indicates they know they are perhaps a little questionable. It's a small hot-glue gun with good marketing. How could something that simple not work?
  • yes (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Charliemopps (1157495) on Saturday May 03, 2014 @04:01PM (#46909513)

    Ok, I don't know if USB3 has enough wattage to do that. I've no idea what kind of plastic they're using, and that's going to be the most important factor here. As far as we know the things they created will melt if left in the window on a warm day. If that were the case, I'm fairly sure USB3 would have enough wattage.

    When I was much younger I worked for a time running injection molding machines. As with most things in a factory the machines were getting old and had issues. One of them was that they'd leak after they were put into standby. 2 very heavy steel molds would come together and a nozzle would come forward and put 30 tons of pressure behind hot plastic. When it was break time I'd put the machine in standby which would keep the plastic and nozzle hot but relieve the pressure. Well, not all the pressure was gone so the nozzle would leak rather slowly. I quickly learned that if I took a piece of cardboard I could manipulate the flow of plastic out of the nozzle and make neat shapes. They looked almost exactly what they made in those videos. I find that a bit too much of a coincidences, so I'd have to say there's at least some credibility to what they're doing.

    That being said, notice you can never see their other hand? I believe they are having to manually feed the plastic. Also, I don't think they are building vertically as it appears. The plastic probably wouldn't cool fast enough to allow that. I believe they are laying the plastic out on the paper, letting it could, then moving its position and tacking it there with a spot of new plastic. This was what I'd do. I made screwy flow pots, vases, coasters, etc... Finally, I want to point on that the ability to make stuff pretty much ends with what you see in the video. There wasn't much else you could do with it. Making anything that was robust enough for actual use would be nearly impossible.

    • by qvatch (576224)
      no one argues that the concept is impossible, just this implementation. The 3d-doodler is an available ABS extruding pen, just bulkier and with a beefier power supply.
  • So you need a computer, or at least a power supply with a USB port, to power a heater and motor? I have some doubts about the thing being cool enough to hold, too. Your fingers are about 3mm from a 180C heat source.

    3D Doodler [kickstarter.com] already has one of these things. Theirs seems to work, although they speed up the video too. For both, the results look like Silly String. [wikipedia.org]

  • As one of the comments points out, where they claim the video shows 13cm extruded in about 5 seconds the actual amount extruded is nearer to 3cm. Using the same assumptions that the article makes 3cm in 5 seconds is well within the power available from the USB port.
  • by xonen (774419) on Saturday May 03, 2014 @04:26PM (#46909607) Journal

    * It preheats some element or reservoir for a limited time duty cycle
    * It just draws more power from USB ; powerbanks happily support 2A and the '900mA specced USB port' on their macbook might also capable of delivering much more.
    * The pen includes a rechargable battery capable of delivering more peak current. The pen could easily hold a 1Ah 3.7V lithion cell.
    * They provide an adapter to plug it in 2 USB ports
    * *

  • That's absolutely real, there is already a product like it, but bulkier.
  • Even if it works this is not 3D printing, at best its a craft tool - 'printing' requires reproducibility. Move along...
  • by Concerned Onlooker (473481) on Saturday May 03, 2014 @05:11PM (#46909799) Homepage Journal

    This isn't so much a hand-held 3D printer as it is a hand-cramp generator.

    • This isn't so much a hand-held 3D printer as it is a hand-cramp generator.

      So is porn but you don't see people complaining about it.

  • Anyone who uses the word 'chops' in that sense, invalidates their position.

  • it can't melt the plastic fast enough.

    It wouldn't have to have a motor to drive the filament. It may work like a mechanical pencil where pushing a button/lever under your finger will feed the filament into the hot-end. It would certainly be simpler and smaller that way.

    • by laird (2705)

      It has buttons labeled "speed controls" so I'm pretty sure that the filament is motor driven. Manually driven filament would be way to uneven.

      They also only say that it works on USB 3 or wall power, and they include a USB wall plug for anyone with USB 2.

      Not sure how they got a motor small enough to fit into a pen and feed filament...

  • electric power at all by using something like one of those propane powered cordless soldering irons. A small flame could melt the plastic and a mechanism like that used in a mechanical pencil could use finger power to push the plastic into the hot-end.

  • I commented on a different site that their video was crappy. It was 1.5 minutes of self promoting douche bags showing nothing. Then a bunch of useless examples of the pen starting something and then poof done, just like a crappy 80s cooking show. Then in the end I saw no purpose for the stupid pen. Basically beyond some crappy 60's style art about the most useful thing they did was oddly repair a horribly torn shirt.

    So to find out that these douchebags are not probably able to deliver surprises me not. I
    • It was 1.5 minutes of self promoting douche bags showing nothing..

      Congratulations I believe you have just described every political ad back to the 70s. For the record, they worked especially well during the last four political elections. What does this have to do with the pen. Everything. Its marketing.

  • The 3Doodler exists, and people were making devices like that from spare 3D printer extruders for many years before that, so there's no doubt that you can melt and extrude ABS.

    The only question with the Lix is whether they can convert power into melted ABS efficiently enough to do so from a USB port. Technically USB 3 can provide 100 watts of power, which is far more than is needed to melt and extrude plastic. So if USB 3, with its power budget, is their target, it's doable.

    Where it's iffy is the "any USB p

    • by laird (2705)

      Correction, 500 mA @ 5 volt USB 1 ports, which is only 2.5 *watts*.

  • The Team doesn't look like they are trustworthy individuals at all. They feel like what I would imagine the Russian mafia or israeli intelligence or something like that to be. Creepy, really.

  • USB 3.0 and 3.1 can supply 5V@2A or 12V@3A or 20V@ 5 Amps.
    I think with 100W available melting a little plastic should be no problem.

  • I double checked their Kickstarter, and they say that it comes with a USB cable and a USB power supply, that it works with USB 3 and they're looking into a USB 2 solution. So they're not saying that the LIX will work on any USB port, they're saying that it'll work on their USB power supply, and with USB 3 (which has a much higher power budget, optionally). Given that running an extruder off of a battery is a dumb idea (it likely draws as much or more power than your laptop), running on wall power makes sens

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