After nearly 2,000 hours of printing on my Makerbot Replicator 2, its showing definite signs of aging. I was hoping after the rough launch of the 4th generation Desktop, that my troubles would be behind me, but it turns out that they just haven't stopped. As much as people complain, I try to take into account that printers are seriously complex and, by nature, are prone to wear and tear issues at that price point.
My first print was as far back as 2004, by a service called 3D art to Part. I had never imagined that I could print something for only $300 before. Now, you can practically build your own printer for the same amount. Why?... Open source everything. The Reprap project thrives off of expired patents and community development to continually push the envelope. With loads of documentation and well maintained inventory on their wiki, most anybody can assemble their own machine. My first kit from Makerbot Industries as assembled this way.
What this means, is that expired patents and freeware software, make assembling a working machine is cheaper than ever. The lineage of these machines has continued with each release of the Reprap's efforts. The Makerbot machines have all been derived and closely resemble the Darwin models, most of all. My original Thing-o-matic kit and the Replicator 2 are no exception.
Recent patents that are expiring soon are detailed as a great summary at 3Dprintingindustry.com. This includes technology far beyond FDM/FFF. Therefore, it brings up a very good point in discussion of "what to purchase next?" I'd answer that with what I want to do as well as what I expect out of a machine for the money I'd be paying.
For starters, do I want another FDM printer or would I rather branch out to the photoactive resin based printers, like the Form 1 or the B9Creator. Honestly, they aren't big enough for what I need, and they are also very high maintenance by comparison. I'd prefer to have these parts this small, tested in large scale on an FDM printer, and then outsourced through shapeways.com.
I want a machine that can work in a sizable range for printing useful items for research. Many of the current FDM derivatives suffice this. Many of these open source machines can be purchased cheap and have plenty of size and customization. A machine that has recently caught my attention is the Lulzbot.com TAZ series.
I also want a machine that can handle multiple types of materials. There are literally over a dozen different types to choose from. In order to do this, for my purposes, it will have to have more than one extruder and also will need a heated build plate. I'm also assuming that a closed in chamber would be best, to manage the temperature better. Many of the new and forthcoming FDM machines can do this. However, 3D printing is just as much software as it is hardware.
This brings us to the next major issue of software quality. I started my slicing and printing experience with ReplicatorG. In fact, when Makerbot Industries first tried to push everyone to Makerware, I found myself with the other early adopters frustrated, to say the least. I only used ReplicatorG and still had serous issues. Since then, Makerware has made significant strides as a user-friendly and intuitive printing solution.
Currently, I rely on this package to unify printing at the office. There are many people who work with my machine, from all different backgrounds and skill levels. I have a dedicated laptop that works with our printer, and it has mandatory "DO NOT CHANGE" settings in the slicing profile of Makerware. This has assured the safest and most reliable means to print, such as:
- Rafting always on
- Temperature settings
Things like improved removability of the raft and slicing speed have made this something I'm not wanting to step back from, if I don't have to. Makerbot has since released the 5th generation of their printing line, but has not revealed a multi-extruder or heated build plate yet. These are market as "optimized for PLA", and they direct people to their Replicator 2X for those wanting more.
I can say, that after my experiences with my current Makerbot, I'm hesitant to try again. Other printing solutions still don't seem to compare and it's hard to turn down an experience that's as unified as they have become. Especially with access to the Stratasys line of patents, development resources, and financial backing, now that they have merged.
The current answer is that I'm going to hold out. Another 6 months is worth the wait for a new line and a market refresh to take place before I go in for another one. In the meantime, if you happen upon the Atlanta side of things this summer, you can see my work featured in a larger exhibit at the Museum of Design in Atlanta, GA.
A few more interesting references:
- Here is an early blog post, before the release of the Replicator 2 where Bre tries to explain the Makerbot Industries side of the equation http://www.makerbot.com/blog/2012/09/20/fixing-misinformation-with-information/
- Here is a good summary of the LISA Simpson in action. http://reprap.org/wiki/LISA_Simpson