MakerBot Releases Their 6th Generation Of 3D Printers

Just in time for the back to school and holiday season, Makerbot has released their latest line of printers. The latest additions to the lineup include the new Makerbot Replicator+ and the Makerbot Replicator Mini+.

The release of these new printers marks MakerBot’s first major product release since the disastrous introduction of the 5th generation of MakerBots in early 2014. The 5th generation of MakerBots included the Replicator Mini, priced at $1300, the Replicator, priced at $2500, and the Replicator Z18, priced at $6500. Comparing the build volume of these printers with the rest of the 3D printer market, these printers were overpriced. The capabilities of these printers didn’t move many units, either (for instance, the printers could only print in PLA). Makerbot was at least wise enough to continue building the 4th generation Replicator 2X, a printer that was capable of dual extrusion and printing more demanding filaments.

The release of the Makerbot Replicator+ and the Makerbot Replicator Mini+ is the sixth generation of MakerBot printers and the first generation of MakerBot’s manufactured overseas. This new generation is a hardware improvement on several fronts and included a complete redesign of the Makerbot Replicator and the Replicator Mini. The Replicator Mini+ features a 28% larger build volume than the original MakerBot Replicator Mini and an easily removable Grip Build Surface that can be flexed to remove a printed part. The Replicator+ features a 22% larger build volume than the MakerBot Replicator and a new Grip Build Surface. The Replicator Mini+ is $1000 ($300 cheaper than its predecessor), and the Replicator+ is $2000 ($500 less expensive). Both new printers, and the old Replicator Z18, now ship with the improved Smart Extruder+.

While the release of two new MakerBots does mean new hardware will make it into the wild, this is not the largest part of MakerBot’s latest press release. The big news is improved software. Makerbot Print is a slicer that allows Windows users to directly import 3D design files from SolidWorks, IGES, and STEP file formats. Only .STL files may be imported into the OS X version of the Makerbot Print software. MakerBot Mobile, an app available through the Apple Store and Google Play, allows users to monitor their printer from a smartphone.

Earlier this year, we wrote the Makerbot Obituary. From the heady days of The Colbert Report and an era where 3D printing would solve everything, MakerBot has fallen a long way. In the first four months of 2016, MakerBot only sold an average of about fifteen per day, well below the production estimated from the serial numbers of the first and second generation Makerbots, the Cupcake and Thing-O-Matic.

While this latest hardware release is improving the MakerBot brand by making the machines more affordable and giving the software some features which aren’t in the usual Open Source slicers, it remains to be seen if these efforts are enough. Time, or more specifically, the Stratasys financial reports, will tell.

3D Printering: Makerbot’s Class Action Suit Dismissed

This time last year, Stratasys, parent company of Makerbot, was implicated in a class action suit. Investors claimed Stratasys violated securities laws, and overstated both the performance of the 5th generation of Makerbot printers and the performance of the company itself. Court docs received by Adafruit have revealed this case has been dismissed with prejudice. Makerbot won this one.

The case presented by Stratasys investors relied on two obvious facts. First, the price of Stratasys shares fell far beyond expectations. Second, the extruder for the 5th generation of Makerbot printers – the ‘Smart Extruder’ – was terrible. No one can reasonably dispute these claims; shares of SYSS fell from $120 in September of 2014 to $30 in September of 2015. With many returns to handle, Makerbot quickly redesigned the Smart Extruder.

Both of these indisputable facts are in stark contrast to statements made by Stratasys and Makerbot at the time. In a press release for the 4th quarter 2013 financial results, Stratasys’ expected sales to grow at least 25% over 2013 and stated it was experiencing “strong sales” of its desktop 3D printer. Concerning the Smart Extruder, Makerbot stated this new feature of the 5th generation Makerbots would make them easy to use, and “define the new standard for quality and reliability.”

The facts of this case are not in dispute – Stratasys did not see the growth they expected in late 2013. The Smart Extruder certainly did not make printers more reliable. These facts, however, are not sufficient to violate securities law.  In a wonderful legal turn of phrase, the judge deciding this case called the statements about the quality of the 5th generation Makerbots consisted of, “non-actionable puffery,” and a ‘statement so vague and such obvious hyperbole than no reasonable investor would rely on them.’

Statements made by Stratasys on their financial performance were also found not to be sufficient to violate securities laws. Stratasys did make several statements about negative performance in late 2014 and 2015, and positive statements made earlier did not have an intent to deceive investors.

This is good news for Makerbot. The claims brought by investors in this case had little merit. The case cannot be appealed, and Stratasys is no longer facing a class action suit. Does this news actually matter? Not really; Makerbot is a dead man walking, and 2016 sales will be at levels not seen since 2010 or 2011.

The consumer 3D printing industry is booming, despite the Makerbot bellwether though.

The MakerBot Obituary

MakerBot is not dead, but it is connected to life support waiting for a merciful soul to pull the plug.

This week, MakerBot announced it would lay off its entire manufacturing force, outsourcing the manufacturing of all MakerBot printers to China. A few weeks ago, Stratasys, MakerBot’s parent company, released their 2015 financial reports, noting MakerBot sales revenues have fallen precipitously. The MakerBot brand is now worth far less than the $400 Million Stratasys spent to acquire it. MakerBot is a dead company walking, and it is very doubtful MakerBot will ever be held in the same regard as the heady days of 2010.

How did this happen? The most common explanation of MakerBot’s fall from grace is that Stratasys gutted the engineering and goodwill of the company after acquiring it. While it is true MakerBot saw its biggest problems after the acquisition from Stratasys, the problems started much earlier.

Continue reading “The MakerBot Obituary”

Hackaday Links: April 10, 2016

Spot the mirrored mac
Spot the mirrored Mac

Here is the best Mac mod we’ve ever seen. [Doogie] decided to take an Apple G5 Quad to the max. This means maintaining the liquid cooling setup, adding the max amount of RAM (16 GB), adding a Sonnet Tempo 6.0Gb PCI-e card and two Samsung 840 Pro SSDs, and an Nvidia Geforce 6600GT. The best part about this Mac? Instead of the classic anodized aluminum, [Doogie] polished the case to a mirror finish. Here’s a video of the entire build. The computer is currently serving up his webpage, and if you want to see how the server load test is going, you can check out the stats page here.

Hackaday links posts are where we put interesting kickstarters and crowdfunding projects, and this one is near the top. It’s a crowdfunding campaign for a glassblowing workshop in England. If this project is funded, people can come repair their scientific glassware, make new tubes, or take a glassblowing workshop. It’s not quite a crowdfunding campaign for a business (perhaps it should be?), but maybe someone out there has a glass lathe they can donate.

A few months ago, Microchip acquired Atmel for $3.56 Billion. There’s a lot of overlap in both company’s portfolios, leading many to wonder which products would be EOL’ed and removed from the market. This week, Microchip released a statement on the acquisition (PDF), and spelled out what to expect from the product line. It’s good news:

We know that stability and growth in manufacturing is an important consideration from a supply base, and it has been one of the key elements that Microchip has executed well throughout its 25+ year life. We will honor that concept in this integration activity as well. We also recognize that product End-of-Life may be one of your concerns in any acquisition, including this one. Microchip has a practice and track record of not putting products on End-of-Life, and it is our intent to continue to offer the complete portfolio of products from both companies.

On April 5th, Makerbot announced it has sold more than 100,000 3D printers worldwide. Sounds like quite an accomplishment, right? Wrong. From December 31, 2014 to April 5, 2016 – fifteen months – Makerbot has sold only 20,094 printers. Sales figures are hard to come by (I’m working on this), but Lulzbot is outselling Makerbot given one of their latest press releases and basic math. There will be more on this after Stratasys releases their 2015 yearly report (on May 9), but I’m calling this the beginning of the end for Makerbot.

Here’s a Kickstarter for a laser cutter. The first reward that will get you a laser cutter is €1.300, “a special 50% early bird Kickstarter discount off the estimated retail price.” That means this is a $3000 laser cutter. What does that get you? A five watt ‘shortwave’ laser, 20×16″ working area, and a software interface that actually looks rather good.

Repairing a MakerBot Mightyboard Clone

It can be argued that MakerBot, a company that makes popular 3D printers, hit its pinnacle with the introduction of the Replicator 2. It was designed well and completely open source, including the motherboard that drove the printer – known as the Mightyboard. China quickly picked up on the success of the Replicator 2 and copy/pasted several of their own versions (at a much cheaper sale price). One of these outfits is called Wanhao, and their version of the Replicator 2 is called..wait for it…the Duplicator!

Their version of the Mighyboard is identical to the original, minus a few nickle and dime components. This suggests that Wanhao made an effort to cut as much cost as possible without looking at what functionality they were removing. And anytime a company does this, you can bet the quality of the board manufacturer is at the bottom of the barrel.   [Avrydev] found this out the hard way when he repaired a faulty motherboard from a broken Duplicator.

The board would not connect to the software via USB, and the startup tune pitch was off. [Arvydev] flashed new firmware via ICSP, but that did not help. He eventually clued in on the main crystal for the Atmega processor. A quick swap and presto! The printer is as good as new.

The 3D Printers of CES

CES, the Consumer Electronics Show, is in full swing. That means the Hackaday tip line is filled to the brim with uninteresting press releases, and notices that companies from the world over will be at CES.

3D printing has fallen off the radar of people who worship shiny new gadgets of late, and this is simply a function of 3D printing falling into the trough of disillusionment. The hype train of 3D printing is stuck on a siding, people are bored, but this is the time that will shape what 3D printing will become for the next ten years. What fascinating news from the 3D printing industry comes to us from CES?

Continue reading “The 3D Printers of CES”

Printing Soft Body Tissue

If you are like us, you tend to do your 3D printing with plastic or maybe–if you are lucky enough to have access to an expensive printer–metal. [Adam Feinberg] and his team at Carnegie Mellon print with flesh. Well, sort of. Printing biomaterials is a burgeoning research area. However, printing material that is like soft tissue has been challenging. In a recent paper, [Feinberg] and company outline a method called FRESH. FRESH uses a modified MakerBot or Printrbot Jr. printer to deposit hydrogel into a gelatin slurry support bath. The gelatin holds the shape of the object until printing is complete, at which point it can be removed with heat. If you don’t want to wade through the jargon in the actual paper, the journal Science has a good overview (and see their video below).

The gelatin is mixed with calcium chloride and gelled for 12 hours at low temperature. It was then turned into a slurry using an off-the-shelf consumer-grade blender. A centrifuge was used to remove most of the soluble gelatin. Printing inks were made with materials like collagen and fibrin. The FRESH process actually uses liquid  ink that gels in the gelatin.

The printer uses an open source syringe extruder found on the NIH 3D print exchange (they never say exactly  which one, though and we had trouble matching it from the pictures). In true hacker fashion, the printer prints its own syringe extruder using the stock one from ABS and PLA plastic. Then you simply replace the standard extruder with the newly printed one (reusing the stock stepper motor).

The paper describes printing items including a model of a 5-day-old embryonic chick heart, an artery, and a miniature human brain model. Another team of researchers in Florida have a similar system, as well.

We’ve talked about bioprinting before and even mentioned how to make your own inkjet-based bioprinter. The FRESH method looks like it is in reach of the hacker’s 3D printing workshop. We cringe to think what you will print when you can finally print body parts.

Continue reading “Printing Soft Body Tissue”