When the MakerBot appeared in 2009, the idea of 3D printing was a bit foreign to all but the most advanced fabricators. Company founder and CEO Bre Pettis says he used to get asked: "So what, do you have to wear special glasses to see it?"
Three years and 13,000 Replicators later, Pettis introduced MakerBot's second generation of DIY 3D printers: The MakerBot Replicator 2. You load a digital rendering into the tool's MakerWare software, set it to print, and the $US2199 machine conjures a model from a spool of corn-based plastic.
The biggest improvement between this Replicator and the 2009 version might be the increase in the size of the printout itself -- this machine can produce an object 37 per cent larger than the older version, working from maximum 6700 cubic centimetres, roughly as big as a shoebox. Another major upgrade is the level of detail -- the printer creates the object in layers, and the 100-micron thickness of each layer is so fine now it's nearly undetectable. At a launch event today in Brooklyn, Pettis passed around a planetary gear set the Replicator 2 had produced -- for a working prototype, it was pretty polished.
"The printing process used to take hours—now it happens in seconds," Pettis said. The ability to process a job 20 times faster is due to the upgraded software. You just drag a rendering onto a virtual build plate and hit print. But it's also because, as Pettis puts it, the MakerBot team spared little expense in sourcing the components. The resulting $US2199 price tag isn't cheap (the older model, at any rate, was $US1749). But if it enables a small business to produce a working prototype and get an idea into production, it's easy to see the machine paying for itself.