MakerBot Replicator+ Review: Initial Impressions and a Few Tests
Andrew Wheeler posted on February 02, 2017 |

When I received the MakerBot Replicator+ 3D printer in the mail, I was excited to test it out.

The MakerBot Replicator+ printer was launched in September 2016 at the company’s headquarters in Brooklyn, N.Y. 

With MakerBot mostly leaving behind the illusion that a 3D printer is a personal consumer device, it has moved on to the education, enterprise and industrial markets. At this point, the most common use of desktop 3D printers is still rapid prototyping, not manufacturing. As you know, a 3D printer does many different things, depending on who is using it, what their background is with other 3D technologies (CAD, CAM, 3D scanning, etc.), and what they want to accomplish. 

MakerBot Replicator+ Arrives

Setting up a MakerBot Replicator+ is meant to be extremely easy, and I had it plugged in and turned on within five minutes of opening the box. After leveling the printer, I printed one of several STL files that are built in to the printer from the push-wheel control. 

This chain is one of the demo prints that arrives with the MakerBot Replicator+. I didn’t add any finishing processes, like acetone vapor. This chain link was made from MakerBot’s PLA gray filament. Some of the support structure is still left on the chain, but can easily be sanded away.
This chain is one of the demo prints that arrives with the MakerBot Replicator+. I didn’t add any finishing processes, like acetone vapor. This chain link was made from MakerBot’s PLA gray filament. Some of the support structure is still left on the chain, but can easily be sanded away.

Improving on the fifth-generation MakerBot Replicator desktop 3D printer, the MakerBot Replicator+ has a 25 percent larger build volume, is 30 percent faster and is 27 percent quieter than earlier versions. The gantry went through a significant engineering process and is now designed to reinforce movement along the Y-axis, which had issues with wobbliness.

The gantry and Z-stage now feels much sturdier, and this should help improve the reliability and constancy of prints.

The MakerBot Replicator+ has a new slicing engine and a flexible build plate, making it easy to remove larger prints by simply bending the plate. (Image courtesy of MakerBot.)
The MakerBot Replicator+ has a new slicing engine and a flexible build plate, making it easy to remove larger prints by simply bending the plate. (Image courtesy of MakerBot.)

Comparing Print Results of a Mold for a Sensor House Casing from GrabCAD

I decided to print a mold for a sensor housing component that I found on a random search on GrabCAD. I converted the .SLDPRT (Solid Part) file to an STL file, and tried to upload it to my MakerBot Desktop app, but the .SLDPRT file was not supported. I then sent an email to my contact at MakerBot for clarification.

It turns out, I was using the MakerBot Desktop app, which is different from the MakerBot Print app, which you can download here.

After I downloaded the app, I opened it up and connected my Replicator+. This time, I imported the .SLDPRT file without an issue, and started a print. 

This is a sensor housing casing .SLDPRT 3D model file that I downloaded from GrabCAD. I used an online converter to transform it into an STL file and printed it from the MakerBot Desktop app.
This is a sensor housing casing .SLDPRT 3D model file that I downloaded from GrabCAD. I used an online converter to transform it into an STL file and printed it from the MakerBot Desktop app.
Now I’m using the MakerBot Print app (different than the MakerBot Desktop app), and it has a pretty intuitive UX. Together with the MakerBot Mobile app for my iPhone 6, the MakerBot Print app lets me monitor prints from either my laptop or my mobile phone.
Now I’m using the MakerBot Print app (different than the MakerBot Desktop app), and it has a pretty intuitive UX. Together with the MakerBot Mobile app for my iPhone 6, the MakerBot Print app lets me monitor prints from either my laptop or my mobile phone.

The little round sensor mock-up came out pretty poorly (you can see gaps and holes in the surface layers) so I went back and just imported the .SLDPRT file directly in MakerBot Print on my laptop. The mesh created from the free online converter I used was probably to blame rather than the Replicator +.

I added the SOLIDWORKS file, clicked on the “Arrange Build Plate” function, found my untethered MakerBot Replicator+ on my Wi-Fi signal, and clicked “Print.”

The difference in quality was immediately apparent in the MakerBot Print .SLDPRT file versus the MakerBot Desktop app STL file conversion from the same .SLDPRT file. Again, this is probably due to the poor mesh created by the free online STL converter.
The difference in quality was immediately apparent in the MakerBot Print .SLDPRT file versus the MakerBot Desktop app STL file conversion from the same .SLDPRT file. Again, this is probably due to the poor mesh created by the free online STL converter.

Flexible Build Plate: The flexible build plate was designed to remove the typical steps of laying down blue grip tape, which enables a better anchoring of the print. Dubbed the “Grip Surface,” each build plate factory leveled by MakerBot so that customers in theory don’t have to worry.

The build plate is not heated, which immediately puts the Replicator+ at a deficit when compared to other desktop 3D printers. Without a heated build plate, printing composite filaments or flexible filaments become less likely to produce a positive outcome.

Startup Time and Box Test Print

The total amount of time that elapsed from powering on to printing a test print to removing the print from the flexible build plate was 2 minutes and 25 seconds. The test print that takes the least amount of time is the 10 mm Box. 

This test print, which is called the “20 mm Box,” printed in about 10 minutes.
This test print, which is called the “20 mm Box,” printed in about 10 minutes.
With a few barely forceful twists, the print and its raft support material slid right off. In general, 3D prints made from PLA filament are generally much easier to remove from any and all 3D printers when compared to the stronger ABS thermoplastic, which is a common alternative.
With a few barely forceful twists, the print and its raft support material slid right off. In general, 3D prints made from PLA filament are generally much easier to remove from any and all 3D printers when compared to the stronger ABS thermoplastic, which is a common alternative.

MakerBot Mobile

MakerBot Mobile is an accompanying app for iOS and Android phones. It allows you to browse Thingiverse, select a model, send it to your 3D printer and monitor it remotely—pretty simple and straightforward. Remote monitoring has been around for some time now, but including it and making it easy to use is a step in the right direction for MakerBot.


Price

MakerBot is offering the MakerBot Replicator+ at $2,499, which is pretty expensive. This will leave a lot of individuals, especially those more familiar with the RepRap movement, with a bad taste in their mouths. MakerBot is not respected among the open-source RepRap makers.

MakerBot Guided Setup Feature

If you do decide to purchase the MakerBot Replicator+ printer and you’re a beginner or newcomer to 3D printing in the education or engineering sectors, MakerBot Mobile has a Guided Setup feature that allows you to set up your 3D printer by following one direction at a time. The setup is very straightforward, but having this feature helps just in case you need it. 

MakerBot’s Native CAD Support

MakerBot Replicator+ supports 20 common CAD file types (in MakerBot Print, not the MakerBot Desktop app). This saves you a step of converting different 3D file formats into STL files. Good news, if you’re looking to import and print whole assemblies from SOLIDWORKS, AutoCAD and so on without having to change the format to STL files.

The following file formats are included:

.MAKERBOT

.STL

.IAM

.SLDPRT

.SLDASM

.IGES

.IGS

.STEP

.STP

.CARPART

.CATPRODUCT

.OBJ

.PRT

.PAR

.ASM

.WRL

.XT

.XB

.IPT

 


Adding Multiple 3D Files to Replicator+ Build Plate

I decided to import a .SLDPRT file, an STL file and an .OBJ file to the build plate in MakerBot Print software, and I was happy to see that you can get the X, Y, Z specs in millimeters and inches so that you can alter a 3D model to fit original or alternative specs of a 3D model for printing. This is great for anyone who is printing a custom component where the design retains the same geometry, but changing the size is key to changing the design.

The MakerBot Print software allows you to see and scale the X, Y, Z dimensions, which could be great if you are in the business of creating customized components where the geometry of the original model stays the same, but the scale changes.
The MakerBot Print software allows you to see and scale the X, Y, Z dimensions, which could be great if you are in the business of creating customized components where the geometry of the original model stays the same, but the scale changes.
A smartphone-enabled VR headset prototyped printed from the Replicator+. If you add in a customized scanning component, you could easily scan a person’s face around the eyes, forehead, cheekbones and brow to create custom 3D-printed headsets.
A smartphone-enabled VR headset prototyped printed from the Replicator+. If you add in a customized scanning component, you could easily scan a person’s face around the eyes, forehead, cheekbones and brow to create custom 3D-printed headsets.

Send Multiple Files to Multiple Build Plates

I wasn’t able to test this feature out because I only have one Replicator+ printer. But this feature allows users to send different 3D files to multiple printers into projects. You can also attach 3D files to emails and send them to others for collaboration.

The print settings allow you to change each individual model in case you need to customize the sizes of one component in the batch. You can also save your print settings and customize plate layouts as one design file. This seems like a useful alternative to grouping a bunch of 3D models or STL files together using different separate collaborative software.

Making iterations on whole batch prints and changing the geometric properties of each individual object in a batch print are the main benefits of creating a local or global network of MakerBot Replicator+ printers. In this example, I changed the scale of two objects without any difficulty.
Making iterations on whole batch prints and changing the geometric properties of each individual object in a batch print are the main benefits of creating a local or global network of MakerBot Replicator+ printers. In this example, I changed the scale of two objects without any difficulty.

Review the Extruder’s Path Like a CNC Machine

If you’ve ever used a CNC machine like a router, you always want to check the path on a router after you input a drawing/G-code to check for obstacles on clearance paths and to make sure that your part is going to come out as expected. 

Print Preview gives users the ability to check the path of the extruder by each individual layer. Monitoring the layers in this preview animation allows you to try and predict where any problems might arise with each individual component and to make design corrections or alter the position of each 3D model on the build platform.
Print Preview gives users the ability to check the path of the extruder by each individual layer. Monitoring the layers in this preview animation allows you to try and predict where any problems might arise with each individual component and to make design corrections or alter the position of each 3D model on the build platform.

Bottom Line

I need to do a lot more printing to know if this is better than alternative 3D printers that cost half as much. The MakerBot Replicator+ is pretty close to plug and play, and the acceptance of 20 new CAD files into MakerBot Print reduces time spent converting different 3D file formats to STL files from their original form.

I really enjoyed the convenience of MakerBot Mobile. Searching through Thingiverse doesn’t always guarantee that a 3D model will be in the best shape for 3D printing directly from your phone, but the ability to walk away from your 3D printer (although not a breakthrough feature at all) and monitor progress remotely is a big plus.

If you are using a whole bunch of these printers at a university or in a professional engineering setting, the ability to collaborate and make changes to individual components on batch files could prove useful. However, there are a multitude of options available in current CAD engineering software to collaborate and share models that have far more features available than MakerBot’s software.

Overall, MakerBot made some steps in the right direction with the Replicator+. Again, I still have a lot more testing to do. If you have any ideas about how you would like me to continue testing the printer, please submit them to me or make suggestions in the comments section below. 

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