The Makerbot Replicator 2 is something I have been lusting over since it came out. There is some debate over if it is actually the best on the market. That depends on what plastic you want to print. They certainly have excellent marketing and a large first mover (or maybe printer) advantage. Even if Makerbot is not the “best” printer on the market, they definitely have the only real support organization, as I sadly had to find out.
The central promise of Makerbot is you sit this thing on your desk and then you unleash your creativity on the physical world. They are marketing this as if this machine is ready for prime time. The word on the street is maybe this is not yet ready for the consumer market but it is really good. My machine arrived damaged and faulty. So maybe that is bad luck, we will see. Anyway, here is the unboxing and setup:
Ever crack open a complicated product and the manual is on the bottom. Apparently that has happened at the Botcave too, because the manual is on top and slightly to the right.
What you can’t see here is a gash in the back of the box. Looks like UPS or Amazon banged it into a corner. From what we could see from the outside, everything looked ok. Probably because the Makerbot itself was wrapped in plastic.
Top and bottom this thing is well protected.
Ouch. There was the first problem. Luckily this is superficial damage. The back panel, actually all the panels are some sort of super foam board. When I told Makerbot support about the crack, they said they would ship out a new one.
The accessory box was neatly packed. Just like an ink jet printer the first ink/PLA is free but it’s a smaller size. Mine came with transparent PLA.
This was an odd one. The power supply was double boxed. Looks like Makerbot are getting the power supplies overseas, which is not a big deal. Wonder why they are double boxing them?
The build plate. Some sort of Lexan or acrylic. I have read that there are problems with these being warped. I did not notice an issue. Makerbot also included several sheets of blue painters tape. Is there any market that 3M wont get into?
The Rep Rap, the machine that the Replicator 2 evolved from was focused on producing its own parts. That seems to be a common theme in the 3D printer world. If you read Chris Anderson’s book Makers, he talks a great deal about mass customization vs mass production. So I was not surprised to find 3D printed parts in the box, I was surprised that the parts were pieces used for shipping. The blue thing is a 3D printed spacer that was held on by that zip tie.
This 3D printed shipping component, holds the extruder tracks and belt in place. This one might make a little more sense to 3D print since it a very custom thing.
The blue spacer, especially since there were two of them seems like something that could have been easily mass produced. I would love to know where that tipping point for production actually is for something like this. Maybe shipping components make more sense to 3D print after all because they are only used for shipping and then discarded. While functional components may need to be replaced so you will need to produce more. Example, the carrier for the build platform is injection molded plastic.
This is the PLA spool holder. It works but loading PLA is kinda a pain.
And there it is, ready to be powered on for the first time.
Ohhhh… Such LED.
I have to say that the screen and the buttons still give this thing a home brew feel. Thats not a bad thing. Everything is functional. If I did have to grumble about something it would be the screen is hard to see when you are standing over the machine.
These little boards give the machine the ability to calibrate itself. The for each axis the machine moves to the limit and bumps one of these. In early videos of Replicator 2s I vaguely recall these boards being black. I wonder if they went with the standard green PCBs for cost reasons as they scaled up manufacturing.
Close up of the endstop board.
There are those LEDs. I love the way the machine communicates its temp/readiness by color. Great idea, whoever came up with that.
Leveling the build platform still seems to be the major pain point in this technology. This is not an easy process. When I talked to Makerbot support they indicated that its a bit of a science and has a lot to do with environmental conditions. I wonder how long until a self leveling platform hits the market?
Its so nice that it actually gives your progress on this. Pre-heating sounds like something that will take a while. The extruder hits 230 degrees C very quickly. If only my oven heated up this fast.
Loading up filament for the first time.
Looks like Makerbot did some testing at the Botcave. They used green.
First print. The Replicator 2 tells you the % complete, the time elapsed and the extruder temp.
There is Mr. Jaws.
The first few layers.
Hmm… the first print and something is really wrong. Mr. Jaws looks like he was made by a very talented spider.
That is not good. They layers have not adhered, there are gaps, PLA was just kinda all over.
The bottom few layers actually look ok.
From the side not so much.
So after screwing around with the machine for a day and a half trying to figure out what was wrong I more or less settled on the nozzle being plugged somehow. When I start a print the machine does ok for the first few layers but then the motor starts to skip. If I run the load filament script the filament comes out ok for a while and then starts to stutter and the skipping starts. When I push the filament though manually it gets to the point where the filament bends rather than going through the nozzle.
Makerbot’s troubleshooting site says if the PLA is curling up toward the nozzle when extruding starts, call them. No other steps are given. This was happening on my Replicator 2.
Lucky for me, I have a Microsoft store near by and they carry Makerbots and PLA. So I went to the store and got a spool of black PLA. While I was there I also asked the rep to extrude a bit of filament that I could take with me. When I got home I ran through all my tests with the black, same problem. I also checked the diameter of the filament coming out of my machine. It matched the filament I got at the Microsoft store.
I called Makerbot support the next business day and they agreed something was up with the nozzle after walking through several diagnostics. They said they would ship out several new components and a new rear panel.
Now I am waiting for the components to show up. The repair is no small job. I will post on that after I have completed it.
It seems 3D printing, although getting closer everyday is still a bleeding edge tech. I knew that going in so I am not surprised by the problems. Still Makerbot is targeting the prosumer market. They explicitly call out engineers and architects as potential clients. I doubt professionals want to spend time messing with a temperamental machine. I hope this machine can live up to its promise.