01.First look: Makerbot Replicator 2
MakerBot Replicator 2
(value score if you know nothing about CAD)
3D printers have been used by companies to produce industrial design prototypes for decades, although until recently the cost to print a 3D object in the home remained prohibitively expensive. Now, instead of applying for a second mortgage, you only need a personal loan to buy your own 3D printer.
The MakerBot Replicator 2 is an example of the latest “affordable” 3D printer. With dimensions of 49 x 42 x 38cm it's compact yet solid, weighing about 11kg. A platform in the middle of the box marks the 3D print area, with the print head moving back and forth across the platform to build a layered 3D object.
The compact size of the printer may at first appear to limit its usefulness in creating larger objects, with a print volume area of 28.5 x 15.3 x 15.5cm (about the size of a large loaf of bread). However, many print projects are a compilation of different components, so everything from a model car to a briefcase can be produced by the MakerBot Replicator 2. To create 3D objects, the Replicator 2 uses a material called polylactic acid (PLA), which is available in a dozen colours, and can be bought in a 1.2kg roll for about $66 a spool.
Choosing which of the three quality settings (low, medium and high) to use has a significant effect on the print time. Our test mug appeared in a couple of minutes using medium quality, but took almost two hours at the high setting.
The software included in the package (MakerWare) allows you to view and import 3D files with support for most of the more popular computer-aided design (CAD) formats. But if you want to create your own 3D objects, rather than simply download ready-to-print 3D designs, you need to add a computer aided design (CAD) package, such as AutoCAD, and need to have some design experience to create anything more complex than a cube or a circle.
Our testers found the 3D objects they created, including cups, teapots and a chain with independent links, to be surprisingly robust. However, even if you’re an experienced CAD user, don’t expect all your print jobs to be a success, as any small deviation in the process will lead to a useless lump of plastic.
There is no denying the wow factor in being able to print a 3D object, and the price drop from tens of thousands of dollars to a few thousand dollars is promising. But unless you have commercial purpose to justify the price and are an experienced CAD user, this is still a very expensive (albeit very cool) toy.