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MakerBot Replicator Review

MakerbotReplicator

The MakerBot Replicator is one of the best consumer 3-D printers on the market, but because this technology is still in its infancy, there are several challenges to overcome. At $1,999, it’s more expensive than other consumer 3-D printers, such as the Solidoodle 2, which costs around $500. Part of the cost is due to the Replicator’s dual print heads, which release plastic filament material for two-color prints. While it’s not possible to print with both heads simultaneously, having dual heads allows you to mix colors together to an extent. For example, mixing yellow and blue filament to make a green object is not possible, but some subtle blending where colors meet is achievable with practice.

As with all 3-D printers, getting good results from the Replicator takes experimentation and practice. While your first few attempts may come out as desired, as you grow increasingly ambitious, you’ll find that creating 3-D objects becomes quite a challenge. Many objects simply aren’t possible to print, and since they often take several hours to complete, learning how to make successful prints is extremely time-consuming. However, the software used by the Replicator is capable of creating quite intricate models, and it automatically builds a support structure around objects as it prints them. For example, an object with a complex piece on top may need a support structure to keep from toppling over while printing. After the object is printed and the plastic has cooled, you can simply break off the support structure.

A few issues related specifically to the Replicator have to do with its design. It’s made from plywood, and it has a limited access window for performing maintenance on the extrusion heads and printing platform. The platform is covered in Kapton tape, and the replacement tape that comes with the Replicator is difficult to apply due to its 125mm thickness. It’s much easier to apply several strips from a thinner roll of Kapton, such as the 25mm roll that comes with the MakerGear Mosaic. Kapton tape prevents the hot plastic from sticking to the platform.

Specifications

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Another issue specifically related to the Replicator is the tendency for the second print head to leave a residue on the printed object as it returns to its resting position. The cause of this problem is that both print heads are installed at the same height above the printing platform, and there is no way to adjust them. It just takes some experimentation to figure out how to successfully print objects within these constraints.

The Replicator uses open-source software, and at the moment, the installation process is somewhat daunting, though worth the trouble. You have to use a program called ReplicatorG to actually print 3-D models from computer files, and you need a program called Skeinforge to send the print jobs to the Replicator. In order for these programs to communicate with each other, you need to install the Python interpreter on your computer. The Replicator website describes exactly how to download and install all of these free, open-source packages, although learning to use them takes many hours of practice.

On the side of the Replicator’s case, an LCD panel allows you to print directly from an SD card without connecting the printer to a computer. However, you still need a computer to copy files to the card, and the Replicator includes a few example files for testing your new printer.

The biggest challenge with 3-D printing is the time it takes to print an object. The Replicator has one of the biggest print volumes of any consumer 3-D printer, but using the whole space can result in an object that takes 10 hours to print and could very easily break apart before finishing. If you can get through the initial learning period and live with the fact that you can’t pause a print for an extended length of time, the Replicator is an excellent 3-D printer.

5 Comments

  1. This was a total waste of money. This printer performed poorly right out of the box. Things only got worse as the days went by. It started with the print head bumping the surface causing errors right from the start. The auto leveling never seemed to help at all. Then just randomly the temperature would drop below working range and prints would abort and have to be restarted. A few days into owning it, the extruder began making awful noises and printing erratically. I was never able to achieve even passible print quality. So I got in touch with customer service. After a lengthy process and jumping through an excessive amount of hoops they finally agreed to replace the extruder.
    Once I received my new part and a firmware update that did little but set the allowable temp lower to keep it running I decided to give it another try. It would finally complete a print but the quality was terrible as ever and the new extruder began making the same labored noises almost immediately. If you are looking to get into 3D printing, buying any random electrical appliance is more likely to produce the results you want. I would wholeheartedly warn anyone away from purchasing one of these pieces of junk. It would be over priced at $25 much less $2500.

  2. It may seem like beating a dead horse but the new smart extruders on this model are junk and ruin the whole unit. Our unit was broken right out of the box. Before even getting to fully test it we were waiting on support to send a replacement extruder. Older models had user serviceable extruders which would allow for onsite repairs in this event. While that is still not ideal, it is a great deal better than dealing with Makerbot support. When the replacement finally arrived it lasted two prints and jammed completely. After contacting support again and waiting two weeks with no estimated time for delivery of another replacement we decided to give up on this one and return the whole unit.
    I already owned a replicator first and second generation so I know the headaches common to 3d printers. Thankfully I had no yet sold my second generation which is being pressed back into service until we can find a suitable replacement. From my overall experience with this company the problem seems to go beyond a bad batch of parts. Steer clear of these guys.

  3. Bought this unit back in May and had problems with the extruder form day one. For our use we have to change filament colors often and the extruder would get clogged to the point of jamming almost every time. Once it does jam you are out of luck since these smart extruders are not self-serviceable. If you can navigate through the nightmare of customer service they will ship you a replacement extruder but once it ships it will still be a week without a printer. If you are ready to invest some money in 3D printing try a Replicator 2 since it may not be perfect but the parts are serviceable and things like clogs can be dealt with in house with minimal downtime.

  4. We decided to get two of these for use at our design firm. In the first month we returned four extruders and swapped the entire printer three times. What time they were actually working the print quality was good but the fifty percent downtime due to faulty parts and sub-par support killed us. We missed entire project deadlines and eventually had to simply request a refund rather than put ourselves further in the hole on this investment. Definitely not worth the money at least in this iteration. I have heard better things about other models but the support is likely to be the same.

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