It was good timing (2nd year running) that I was in Las Vegas for CES 2014. While I did have business reasons to attend CES , I had to make sure I made it over to the 3D Printing TechZone. My 3D PLA printing dreams were realized with the purchase of a Makerbot Replicator 2 just before the New Year, so visiting Makerbot’s booth just after they announced their new line of three printers and a 3D Digitizer was a must. I didn’t get time to see the digitizer in action but I hope to in the near future for a hands on review.
My Replicator 2 is less than a month old as I was worried about Makerbot pulling an Apple on me by replacing my brand new printer with a better, faster and cheaper version than the one I JUST bought. They almost did all three, pricing the Replicator 2’s eventual replacement (now simply ‘The Replicator’) at $2799.00. Add on “Makercare” for $245.00 and your just north of $3000.00. While The Replicator may indeed be better and faster, it’s also almost $1000 more than what I paid for the Replicator 2 during their recent $1899.00 holiday promotion. I did ok. So what’s new?
Makerbot Replicator Mini
At $1375.00, the Makerbot mini certainly isn’t cheap but it does get you into the game. The mini features a self-leveling platform, a fully enclosed build surface and wifi connectivity. Take notice of its small 3.9 L x 3.9 W x 4.9 H inch build platform – at that size I wouldn’t be able to print that game-changing iPhone 5s case I’ve had in the works. For me, this one is just too small but you might have smaller ambitions, eh? Also, and most importantly, the Mini prints at 200 microns resolution. I almost missed that in the specs which won’t give you the same quality of print as Makerbot’s other printers.
Cost: $1375 USD | Shipping: Spring 2014 | Link: Makerbot Store
Makerbot Replicator 5th Generation
For $2899, the new Replicator 5th gen has both USB and ethernet connections (wifi listed as coming soon), assisted build platform leveling, a 3.5 inch full color LCD display (NICE!) with a retro knob controller and a very large 20.8 L X 17.4 W X 16.2 H inch build area (11% bigger then the Replicator 2) and a glass platform. It should be noted that the build platform remains unheated just like the Replicator 2. I will assume that this will be their best seller going forward, eventually retiring the Replicator 2 which I can see lasting into 2014.
Cost: $2899 USD | Shipping: NOW !!! | Link: Makerbot Store
Makerbot Z18 a.k.a. “The Monolith”
So this one is the big daddy of the Makerbot line. With a HUGE 12.0 L x 12.0 W x 18.0 H inch build capacity, I see many plastic Eiffel Towers in your future. Of course, at $6,499 you may have to put off that Paris vacation to afford this one. Features include 100 micron resolution, a 3.5 inch full color LCD display with a retro knob controller, a heated build chamber and “Super Flat Build Plate.” I was told by a representative at the booth that the Z18’s build plate should only need to be leveled once. You can connect the Z18 to a Mac/PC via a USB cable, USB stick, ethernet cable or wireless.
Cost: $6,499 USD | Shipping: Spring 2014 | Link: Makerbot Store
CAMERA AND SMART EXTRUDER
The Mini, Replicator and the Z18 all feature a built in camera so that you can remotely monitor the build with an iPhone. There’s also a smart extruder that detects filament breaks and sends notifications to your computer or mobile device when it detects a problem. So one may consider these features more fluff than function, but they do have their uses. I think the possibility of live streaming of a build (people are really fascinated to see any 3D printer operate) and the ease of social sharing make the camera a potentially valued addition. As for the smart extruder, anything done in this area to make what are essentially glue guns more capable is worthwhile. I don’t know if it’s possible, but down the road, I would also like to see Makerbot selling upgraded extruders for their current Makerbots.
Makerbot made a strong push to stay current and hip in the 3D printing wars. Just next to their booth was the 3D SYSTEMS which was showing off CubePro that prints up to 3 simultaneous colors (at 75 microns) for around $5000. I won’t get into the ceramic and sugar/chocolate (yes, chocolate!) printers they had. It’s a race on price, features and flexibility. Makebot seems well positioned to be the go to company for small businesses, schools, designers and tinkerers who want to realize their designs TODAY because tomorrow is just too long to wait!
Makerbot Industries can unlock the inner designer/product engineer in all of us. As these devices drop below $1000, the barrier of entry costs are less than a 60″ LCD TV at Walmart. It is my goal to use these devices to turn my now 5 year old into a young engineer, giving her the ability to design whatever comes to mind. Looking at her face as she watches the printer operate, I can see the gears turning. I intend to get one of his printers into my daughters school at some point in the future. Even if I have to buy one myself and donate it, it’s that important. These are exciting times.