After working with larger Stratasys machines in our print shop, we were excited to finally get our hands on the 5th Generation MakerBot Replicator+ and see what's so special about these desktop printers. This is what we found.
MakerBot is the industry leader in smaller home and office desktop printers. They are the producers of the 5th Generation MakerBot Replicator+, which is an FDM (Fused Deposition Modeling) 3D printer that extrudes plastic filament through a small tip to construct 3D objects layer by layer. As soon as we received the latest machine, we were excited to take it out and test its user-friendly features.
Overview of MakerBot Replicator+ Features
These are the features that stood out to us the most:
MakerBot spent an immense amount of research and development on their newest and most reliable extruder yet, the Smart Extruder+. Without any tools or adjustments to install, this extruder snaps in magnetically to a place on the head unit with zero wiggle room. It was designed specifically for use with PLA, and its performance is backed with a 6 month warranty.
The MakerBot Replicator+ features a user-friendly LCD Display interface with a simple menu system that makes choosing files and calibration painless and nearly automatic. One main dial and two buttons are all you need to navigate the refined menu, complete with preloaded calibration sequences, informational tutorials and multiple preloaded demonstration parts.
Connectivity with MakerBot Mobile App and Thingiverse:
During the initial setup, MakerBot Replicator+ instructs you to sync to your phone using the MakerBot Mobile App. This is where you can access your onboard camera to monitor your prints remotely, watch tutorials, load .STL files and be connected to MakerBot Print or MakerBot Desktop through WIFI/Ethernet.
In addition to connecting with the app, you can download thousands of free user-submitted parts and assemblies on Thingiverse, the largest 3D printing community. Thingiverse is MakerBot's library and acts as a great resource for all levels of users, ranging from hobbyists to CAD professionals.
Loading the MakerBot Replicator+ :
The Replicator+ uses 1.75mm PLA (Polylactic acid) filament because it is non-toxic, biodegradable and has a low melting temperature. These characteristics make this material ideal for home-use and office-use desktop 3D printers. The PLA filament comes in a MakerBot brand spool to ensure consistent quality and reliability. And an added bonus? The 5th generation MakerBot Replicator+ includes a spool of Grey PLA to get you started upon arrival.
With this material, you can load the canister by lifting the container on the back of the machine that holds the spool until it clicks in place. Then, place the spool into the container and feed some filament through the tube up to the extruder. Once the material is at the extruder, you can navigate to a simple automated wizard found within the display’s menu system under “Load/Unload Filament,” and follow the instructions as it heats and purges.
Calibrating the Replicator+ is as simple as clicking “Calibrate” in the display menu and following the indicated steps. Use the allen key provided in the box to adjust the two screws on the underside of the build tray to minutely adjust the Z axis. During step-by-step calibration, a light will go on from the Smart Extruder+ when the bed is exactly level.
Although the build size is large enough for almost any project, for our first print we chose a linked chain model since it was one of the few sample parts preloaded on the MakerBot Replicator+. After a half hour of choosing the model, raising the bed, extruding and printing, we had our chain. Amazingly, it came out nearly perfect on our first print out of the box! This is almost unheard of on hobby printers.
We removed the part from the build tray and then removed the support raft with just our fingernails. The flexible platen makes removing parts as simple as bending the tray and popping off your finished part, though we’ve found that a basic palette knife is useful to have nearby for removing stubborn parts or support material.
Areas for Improvement
MakerBot did a great job with engineering the MakerBot Replicator+, but there is always room for improvement. One of the areas that could be improved in the next edition of this printer is adding more materials.
With so many materials available for 3D printing, PLA can be limiting to more professional users. Hobbyists can enjoy PLA and tough PLA for most of their projects, but users who require ABS or more durable materials may find Stratasys Desktop Printers a better fit. Plus, there is a growing demand for open source hardware and filaments that allow adding (often printable) accessories and additions on to your machine.
Overall, we're very impressed with the build quality and performance of the MakerBot Replicator+ 3D desktop printer. It is glaringly evident that many years of research and development have been distilled into this machine. The ease of use straight out of the box makes this an ideal option for the beginner just getting into 3D printing. We look forward to further testing to see how it holds up over time and with more complex projects.
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