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Unboxing the MakerBot Replicator 5th Gen!

Hi Guys! One of our very good friends recently took delivery of one brand spanking new MakerBot Replicator 5th Generation, which he had ordered straight from the show floor at the Consumer Electronics Show in January. We were fortunate enough to be there as he unboxed his Bot and wanted to share that good fortune with you. Below is a gallery of what we saw, sprinkled in with our observations about the setup process. If there are additional shots you’d like to see, write a comment- we still have access!

MakerBot has taken a page from Apple, Samsung, et. al and stepped up their packaging. The first thing you see when you open the box is the MakerBot logo. Flip open a flap and you receive a personal welcome. Flip open another flap and the accessories are packed securely in place. Each bot comes with cables, a spool of clear PLA (2lbs on a new, proprietary spool), the build platform, documents, and the amazing new v8 extruder.

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Underneath the accessories, the Replicator is lightly packaged, preassembled in a plastic bag with hefty ziptie with protective foam all around and on top. This is meant to be simple to setup and start printing. The only pieces to install are the bed, extruder, and filament.

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The new extruder is a work of art. The attention to detail is pretty amazing. Stuff we noted:

  • The built-in spring-loaded lever which holds the filament securely to the built-in drive mechanism (and note that it’s no longer a NEMA-17 motor!).
  • Spring-loaded contacts on the back side.
  • Built in fan ducting surrounding the nozzle and enclosed fans
  • We presume thermocouple, heater controls, and drive pulses go through these contacts.
  • This design uses four STRONG neodymium magnets (check it holding a full altoids can) to hold the extruder to the gantry carriage.

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The Replicator Gen5 ships with two printed shipping clips that hold the Z-axis carriage in place. You need to pull those out before installing the build platform, which is now glass in a plastic carrier.  The carrier+glass slides into the Z-axis carriage on two rails and locks into place with detentes and are retained by molded-in stops.

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Filament is stored inside a sliding compartment on the back of the printer. It holds exactly one spool at a time, and routes it through a teflon tube into the extruder.  Though it should keep it dust-free, the new spool is new, proprietary addition to the 2014 lineup. On one hand, it makes filament handling simpler and more consistent and it is still 1.75mm diameter. On the other, it does lock out the use of third party filaments unless they make spools of the same size or you don’t mind an external spool.

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One of the most welcome features is a color LCD at the top of the front frame rail. No more crouching down to read backlit text- MakerBot puts this screen to good use with graphical setup tips from bed leveling through print, to downloading models.  Also new are jog dial and button controls. We found them simple and intuitive. The jog wheel has a rubber outer ring, has dozens of detentes for a positive feel,  is backlight, and is itself a “Select” button. The other two buttons to the left are purely for navigating options or going back. Check out the variety of messages given below.

One unfortunate addition to the experience was mandatory firmware upgrade on initial boot. The Replicator shipped with Firmware 0.5.34.0 and we had to install the new MakerBot Desktop Bundle (which replaces MakerWare) to install the firmware upgrade. Upgrading the firmware using the ethernet port was not an option!  Though we did get the upgrade to 1.0.0.2 installed, the process wasn’t without hiccups. MakerBot Desktop took two tries to install- the first pass just uninstalled our copy of MakerWare without warning. The second time the entire bundle installed. Did we mention the firmware took 15 minutes to upgrade?

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We were super-impressed with the new semi-automated leveling feature. Though a little slow, you simply let printer calibrate itself at the center, then let it move to two points, at the front and to the right of the build platform. At each point you will be asked to turn the dial until an LED on the extruder turns on. It takes almost no time and no need to slip paper under the nozzle any more!  We did encounter an “HES” error twice during leveling; this cleared up with a power cycle.

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Printing was straightforward, with two exceptions. First, there is a new setting in MakerBot Desktop that you must check before you can print direct to printer. The only option offered initially was to export to file. Also note the Thingiverse and MakerBot store integration. That extends into the printer UI as well. Camera function was curiously absent from both the software and UI. However, that might be exposed when you link the printer to your Thingiverse account, which we were unable to do (since this was not our printer).

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Printing was a good experience, after we put painter’s tape on glass. We tried to print our friend the Octopus directly on the glass with a raft, but found that the raft became detached rather easily. Interestingly, MakerBot Desktop’s raft pattern is significantly different than MakerWare. Rafts seem to be a bit thicker with more cross-hatching. Heating percentage and time are prominently displayed on the LCD. Prep time feels to be slower than the Replicator 2, but print speed feels faster. We’re working on adding some videos of both.

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Thanks for reading this far! We’ll be updating the blog as we get more pics and video uploaded, but we wanted to get these out there as soon as we could. Please leave us a comment if you’d like to see something specific!

We’d like to give a shout out to our friends at Smart Mocha who make a simple, sensor based monitoring platform for just about any task. This Replicator 5th Gen will be used to develop cases and sensor brackets for their product line. They generously allowed us to document and share the fun of their unboxing. Thanks guys!

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