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MakerBot and 3D Printing

14th November 2013

3D Printers will soon be Commonplace

At this year’s Consumer Electronics Show, I spent some time scouting out 3D printers. These are devices that can build or construct a three-dimensional solid object. For a couple of months, I studied the literature and researched several models via the Internet.

A couple of months later while I was in New York City, I stopped by a store in downtown Manhattan. It’s not your usual store – it’s for “techies” like me. MakerBot, a manufacturer of 3D printers had opened a store right in Manhattan. If the staff could prove to me that using their Replicator 2 was simple, I’d buy one.

And that’s exactly what happened. A ten minute demo convinced me that I’d be able to operate their technological marvel. I ordered one to be shipped back to Grand Rapids and it was waiting for me by the time I returned home.

I found the technology in this device to be amazing and thought that some of you might want to know how it works.

The Replicator 2 is about the size of a microwave oven.

Its frame is made of lightweight metal. Mounted towards the top of the cabinet are several stepper motors which are responsible for positioning the extruder (see below).

A large flat platform on which the 3D object will be constructed sits below. This platform is movable (up and down) through another stepper motor.

3D objects are constructed from a PLA (polyactic acid) plastic material. Here are two spools of PLA filament material.

The device has only one simple control button located at the bottom right corner of the cabinet. There’s also a small LCD for displaying the menu items for controlling the Replicator 2. An SD-card is used to store the instructions for printing 3D objects.

The Replicator 2 builds 3D objects using an extrusion process. The PLA filament is fed into a very hot chamber which melts the plastic. The plastic is then forced through a small nozzle – the gold-color pointed part – and is extruded onto the movable platform.

The program contained on the SD-card controls the stepper motors which in turn precisely positions the nozzle. As the nozzle moves, the plastic is extruded and solidifies almost immediately. The 3D object is constructed by extruding a series of thin layers. As each layer is completed, the movable platform moves downward and the next layer in extruded.

This red 3D object is in the early stages of construction having only a few layers completed.

We return several minutes later after more layers have been extruded and the 3D object appears more solid.

All the while, the SD-card program has instructed the stepper motor how to move and when to extrude the PLA material.

This side view shows both the nozzle and the many layers of PLA that have been extruded to construct this bright colored 3D object.

Construction is complete.

You can see that we’ve just made a nice red plastic stretch bracelet.

Here are a few more 3D objects that I printed with the Replicator 2.


Why do I have one?

The short answer is that I want to understand the technology and learn the uses of 3D printing. I believe these devices are going to become very commonplace soon. The Replicator 2 sells for about $2500, a relatively modest price. But they are already they are widely used in industry with companies eager to earn significant savings when making prototypes of their products.

Coincidentally, I received an email from MakerBot this morning. They are starting a campaign to “put a 3D printer into every school”. If you brush aside the fact that the promotion is self-serving, the idea of educating our younger generation about this amazing technology is certainly worth considering.

MakerBot oversees a rather large “library” of 3D designs called the Thingiverse. It has more than 100,000 items to choose from and most of the designs are free. You can download the designs and run it through their Makerware software (included with the Replicator 2) to convert for printing. Copy the program to the SD-card and you’re ready to construct a new 3D design.

For more information about the Replicator 2, please visit MakerBot.


Written by: Arnie Lee





1 Comment »

  1. Arnie,

    Thank you. I have been following 3d printing now for going on three years and have seen an enormous increase in focus and interest.

    I started three years ago to register domain names related to 3D Printing and 3D Scanning and now own 450 + domain properties.

    Some of my domain names are,,,,,,,,,,,,,,… etc.

    With the expiration of some key patents related to metal 3d printing in early 2014, the momentum of 3d printing will eccelerate.

    Comment by Robert McLean — November 14, 2013 @ 6:40 am

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