MakerBot Releases Method X with ‘True ABS’ 3D Printing speaks to MakerBot about its new ABS 3D printer.

Last year, MakerBot seemed to have scrapped its historical desktop 3D-printing technology and started from scratch to create something more powerful and reliable with the Method 3D printer. Now, the Stratasys subsidiary is taking the expected approach and adding an upgraded system to the Method line with the Method X.

The MakerBot Method X 3D printer can print with ABS and soluble supports. (Image courtesy of MakerBot.)

The MakerBot Method X 3D printer can print with ABS and soluble supports. (Image courtesy of MakerBot.) spoke to Dave Veisz, vice president of Engineering, and Johan-Till Broer, vice president of Product Development, about the new product and how it differs from the Method.

True ABS

The biggest improvement of the Method over MakerBot’s previous Replicator series was its heated build chamber capable of reaching up to 60°C. This feature is associated with a Stratasys patent that most desktop 3D-printer manufacturers are too afraid to touch even if it means improved printability and materials selection.

The Method X kicks the chamber temperature up to 100°C so that it cannot only print the PLA, PETG, Tough PLA and PVA (soluble support) of the Method, but it can also print ABS and SR-30  (soluble support) found in industrial extrusion technology. ABS is one of the most prevalent thermoplastics found in consumer goods due to its high thermal resistance.

Veisz explained that this thermal resistance makes it difficult to 3D print with, which is why most desktop 3D printers actually print with a form of ABS that has been “optimized for 3D printing.” An impact modifier or plasticizer, which lowers the heat deflection temperature of the material, might be added to the ABS so that it can be printed more easily. This, however, has an adverse impact on the stiffness, strength and thermal properties of the plastic, detracting from its intended purpose.

Veisz described how most printers handle ABS: “When you’re printing ABS on a heated build plate, it will adhere to the heated build plate because you usually set the temperature of the heated build plate to right around the glass transition temperature of the material.But then, as your build goes higher, your extruding it into a cooler environment.The material cools rapidly, and that causes the ABS to contract.”

As the ABS shrinks, delamination occurs, with layers of ABS peeling off of previous layers and causing large horizontal cracks in a part. Method X, however, features a high-powered recirculating oven. 

“A cushion of air is recirculated at the build plane, as opposed to just the build plate,” Veisz said.”That means every layer we put down is subject to the same environment, up to 100°C, which allows for really good, really conducive layer adhesion.It also lets the ABS cool slowly, which lets it relax and not warp.”

End-Use Parts

While the Method 3D printer was targeted mainly for prototyping and educational purposes, the Method X is described as being suitable for fabricating manufacturing tools, such as jigs and fixtures, as well as end parts.

Because the Method X is basically an upgrade to the Method, it features the same dimensional accuracy: “± 0.2mmor ± 0.002mm per mm of travel (whichever is greater).” The ability to use ABS, PLA, PETG and Tough PLA allows the system to print stronger parts.

A 3D-printed ABS part demonstrating the dimensional accuracy of the MakerBot Method X. (Image courtesy of MakerBot.)

A 3D-printed ABS part demonstrating the dimensional accuracy of the MakerBot Method X. (Image courtesy of MakerBot.)

“The properties of ABS are great for end-use parts and short-run manufacturing, for companies that produce very small quantities of products where 3D printing makes sense,” Broer said. He mentioned interior mounts for small electronic devices, as well as end effectors for robotic arms as prime candidates for 3D printing with the Method X.  “In these cases, you would be connecting [3D-printed components to] pre-existing parts, so the dimensional accuracy is very important.”

In addition to manufacturing, the Method X is also designed for higher education, STEM labs and office environments. Veisz pointed out that in addition to being fully enclosed and insulated, the Method and Method X feature bellows in the X and Y axes so that the top of the machine is sealed off from the build environment, trapping some of the volatile organic compounds (VOCs) associated with 3D printing. MakerBot actually collaborated with UL in developing its 3D-printing safety standards with regard to particulate matter and VOCs.

With the release of the Method X, the price for the original method has been dropped to $4,999. The Method X is being sold for $6,499. The company plans to release additional materials in the future. This may be particularly important as the sourcing of petro-plastics becomes more of a concern, given the increasing effects of the climate crisis. Veisz said that MakerBot is exploring further plant-based plastics to address this issue.

To learn more about the Method X 3D printer, visit the MakerBot website.