The Midwest RepRap Festival is the best place to go if you want to see the latest in desktop 3D printing. This weekend, we saw full-color 3D printers, a printer with an infinite build volume, new extruders, a fantastic development in the pursuit of Open Source filament, and a whole bunch of D-bots. If you want the bleeding edge in 3D printing, you’re going to Goshen, Indiana.
Of course, it wasn’t always like this. In 2009, MakerBot released the Cupcake, a tiny printer that ushered in the era of democratized 3D printing. The Cupcake was a primitive machine, but it existed, it was open source, and it was cheap – under $500 if you bought it at the right time. This was the printer that brought customized plastic parts to the masses, and even today no hackerspace is complete without an unused Cupcake or Thing-O-Matic sitting in the corner.
The MakerBot Cupcake has not aged well. This should be expected for a technology that is advancing as quickly as 3D printing, but today it’s rare to see a working first generation MakerBot. Not only was the Cupcake limited by the technology available to hackers in 2009, there are some pretty poor design choices in these printers. There’s a reason that old plywood MakerBot in your hackerspace isn’t used anymore – it’s probably broken.
This year at MRRF, [Ryan Branch] of River City Labs brought out his space’s MakerBot Cupcake, serial number 1515 of 2,625 total Cupcakes ever made. He got his Cupcake to print a test cube. If you’re at all familiar with the Cupcake, yes, this is a hack. It’s a miracle these things ever worked in the first place.
This is the Cupcake in all her glory. This is where the revolution in consumer 3D printing started. This is a Gordian knot of belts and pullies, RS485 going through RJ45 connectors, huge stepper drivers, and an acrylic extruder that hasn’t yet cracked. This is a rare machine, but not because MakerBot made less than three thousand of them. There’s not much dust on it, the nichrome wire hotend still works, and all the electronics work.
Seeing this Cupcake in action was one of the highlights of my weekend at MRRF. I have seen a not insignificant fraction of all Cupcakes ever made (p > 0.05), and not a single one of them were operational. This is the first time I’ve ever seen one working. Was it working well? No, but that’s not the point. It’s the 3D printing equivalent of retrocomputing, and it’s glorious.
Over the course of the weekend, [Ryan] was able to get his Cupcake working for one print – a small test cube. How did this test cube turn out? You be the judge:
In short, this is a terrible print. This is what we had back in the day, kids.