MakerBot Prints Well with Fewer Clogs—What’s Not to Like?
Jeffrey Heimgartner posted on January 19, 2016 |
New Smart Extruder+ does the trick.

I’ve been 3D printing both internally and for client projects on a MakerBot Replicator2 for about three years now, pulling my fair share of 3D prints off the build plate during that time. Unfortunately, I’ve also had to throw away a number of tangled-up, mangled, crazy-looking piles of plastic due to issues such as nozzle clogs. In MakerBot’s defense, however, a number of those were due to learning-curve issues, operator error and just plain bad luck.

Figure 1. The inner workings of the MakerBot Smart Extruder+. (Image courtesy of MakerBot.)
Figure 1. The inner workings of the MakerBot Smart Extruder+. (Image courtesy of MakerBot.)

In fact, I’ve been extremely happy with the MakerBot Replicator2. I’ve never had to replace a part. Besides general maintenance, such as lubrication, the only thing I’ve had to do on occasion is disassemble the extruder assembly to clean out the nozzle and unclog it. This task is quite frustrating and wastes a fair amount of time—time that the printer could be printing. There are a number of different things that can cause a clog: the wrong speed, wrong temperature, a bad .STL file or unknowingly not getting the previous filament pulled out when changing the filament.

I recently received a product notification from MakerBot that promises fewer clogs and better 3D prints. It was an announcement of the Smart Extruder+, a new swappable extruder for fifth-generation MakerBot 3D printers that comes with a six-month warranty. The extruder is touted as MakerBot’s “most tested product ever,” with 160,000 hours of “rigorous testing.”

In a news release on January 5, 2016, CEO of MakerBot Jonathan Jaglom explained, “The extruder is the most critical part of a 3D printer and it is a part that wears out after a certain period of time and needs to be replaced. We engineered and tested the Smart Extruder+ to enhance its reliability, provide better performance and extend its lifetime. We stand behind it by doubling our warranty to six months. Because it is swappable, the Smart Extruder+ can also reduce downtime when it’s time to replace it.”

The 160,000 hours of testing was done in combination by both MakerBot and parent company Stratasys. In total, 5,800 prints were completed by the two separate groups. The tests indicated that the Smart Extruder+ “performed consistently and reliably” for more than 700 hours. That’s just under a mile and a half of PLA filament extruded.

So, what advancements have been made with the Smart Extruder+? The email I received pointed out the following three main items (also see Figure 1).

  1. Filament Loading and Unloading: Smart Extruder+ includes a smoother, streamlined process for loading and unloading filament, including on-screen prompts.
  2. The Encoder Wheel: This measures the small increments of movement and has been overmolded to prevent underextrusion and cut down on false filament detection. There’s also a filament jam sensor that will pause the print and send you an alert on your computer or smartphone if the wheel stops spinning.
  3. The Hot End: The PTFE tube which helps guide the filament has been extended upwards, drastically reducing clogging and making filament loading and unloading easier.

The Smart Extruder+ is available now for preorder and is expected to ship January 18, 2016. It has an MSRP of $199, although current MakerBot fifth-generation 3D printer customers can get their first one for $99. That same discount is extended to new customers that purchase a MakerBot fifth-generation 3D printer. To purchase a MakerBot Smart Extruder+ or for more information, visit makerbot.com/smartextruder.

MakerBot 3D printers are made for engineers, architects, designers, educators and consumers. The company was founded in 2009 and recently became a subsidiary of Stratasys, a company with more than 25 years of industry experience. MakerBot has one of the largest installed bases and market shares in the desktop 3D printing industry, with more than 90,000 MakerBot Replicator 3D printers in the world.

About the Author






Jeffrey Heimgartner has more than 20 years of experience in the computer-aided drafting and design field. He manages the Lincoln, Nebraska-based drafting and design firm, Advanced Technical Services. His main responsibilities include managing the CAD team, sales, scheduling and coordinating projects, drafting and design, as well as marketing and all IT functions.

Jeffrey earned his bachelor’s degree in Industrial Technology with an emphasis in Computer Aided Drafting and Design from Wayne State College in Wayne, Nebraska. He has a background in farming and construction and has authored many published industry-related articles.

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