Nearly two years ago, we jumped into the world of 3D printing with anticipation, after having seen the wall of Makerbot Replicator 2 printers at the 2013 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.
Since at the time Makerbot was not selling their product officially outside of the USA, and we just HAD to have one, we had a relative in New York City walk into the Makerbot store in New York City, purchase a Replicator 2, and have it walked across the street to UPS.
Our printer arrived a few days later, and I can truly say the out of box experience was pretty darn terrible. From a warped print bed, to a poorly designed extruder head, to bad quality PLA and temperamental firmware, we experienced no end of problems and frustration.
The idea that 3D printing would transform our internal design process and allow us to rapidly prototype ideas and parts in near real time, well, that lustre came off pretty fast.
Slowly, we navigated the Makerbot and similar forums, got some better open source slicing software, repaired our machine at regular intervals (ribbon cable and thermistor replacement, anyone?) and got orders from clients for printed prototypes. The motivation returned and we finally emerged, some 300 hours of printing later, with confidence, that when we make the appropriate adjustments to part design and knew what the limits of the machine were, we could get some pretty great prints!
Thanks to great vendors like JustPLA (www.justpla.com) and Voxel Factory (www.voxelfactory.com), we discovered that good quality materials made a huge difference!
Our Makerbot now sports a custom aluminum L-frame with plexi panels to contain airflow and maintain a more constant internal temperature. It is nearly unrecognizable as a Makerbot, but it (mostly) does what we want. We’ve printed everything from hose adapters that were proven leak-proof at 30 psi to various structural clips, car parts, production fixtures, and mechanical prototypes in support of our clients’ projects. Our Mechanical Engineer keeps our ‘bot in fine form, as I can stress – without experience, the Makerbot will print nothing like the ads would lead you to believe.
The odo is up to 800+ hours and while we don’t know how far Makerbot can still take us, we do know that it’s about to be joined by a shiny new and more robust machine that will arrive in about a week!