MRRF 17: A Working MakerBot Cupcake

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.

26 thoughts on “MRRF 17: A Working MakerBot Cupcake

  1. My Cupcake ran really well all things considered. I replaced many of the parts with alternatives though. Only reason I stopped using it was I moved onto a RepRap Mendel.

    My reliability and print quality increased significantly when I replaced the acrylic idler with one I had a machinist make out of aluminum. Also I replaced the hot end components with parts that MakerGear sold at the time.

    I guess I should have brought it along. I am considering getting my original McWire RepRap running again and bringing that next year just for kicks. With it’s direct drive unipolar motors it runs at an astounding 9 mm/sec.

    1. I tried to find some evidence of my CupCake running but all I could find is this short clip from an episode of the Ben Heck Show which if I have the URL correct it should jump to that particular, very short, sequence.

      Mine technically is not completely a cupcake. I bought the frame parts from Makerbot so it does have a number (#672) on it but I made the electronics and sourced all the hardware from my own sources.

  2. My cupcake still runs and does really good prints. but the entire backpanel for the Z axis and the XY were upgraded with 3d printed replacements (printed on it) so I’m not sure it even counts as a cupcake anymore. It did many a client project and printed 3 prusa printers though so it owes me nothing. I figure it still works 10x better than a replicator 3.

  3. Nice work [Ryan], even if it’s not a good printer, it’s a nice bit of printing history.
    This post sounds like a challenge to get my Cupcake running again! I swapped the electronics and toolhead with those of a Rep2 back in 2012, but I never went farther than proof-of-concept — another candidate for the this weekend then.

  4. I have cupcake #1525 (10 after the one in the article!) and it is printing just fine. Of course, I’ve upgraded it with a DIY heated bed (I had the original with the Al spreader), Gen4 stepper drivers, a Mk6 stepper-based extruder, plexi windows/doors on all sides, and ACME z-rods.

    Still does a slow helical spiral in the z axis, though lol.

  5. my cupcake also still works, replaced the acrylic parts with printed ones a long time ago but still have all the original parts. it was too slow and noisy, like other cupcake owners i also moved on to a bigger and better. I need to find the compatible versions of software and I could probably get it printing again (if you know this please let me know), I have a plan to set it up with a bigger nozzle for super fast prototyping of the smaller parts, would flexible and other exotic filamemts work (they might be cheaper in 3mm size)?. Otherwise I was also thinking of donating it to a local school / library / hackerspace (though this seems like more of a poisoned gift than anything else!)

    1. A hackerspace is probably the only one that would appreciate it and get it running again.

      A library needs/wants working printers, not another project they don’t understand and schools, while some schools might be interested in it as a project, most don;t really have the money to throw into something like this.

  6. Our thingimatic at Baltimore Hackerspace still runs. Incredibly finicky but a marked improvement from the cupcake. Been very tempted to drop a modern control board into it though…

  7. I spent a lot of time hacking at my cupcake to make it usable. I replaced the electronics, the Z-Axis, the extruder, the hotend. It eventually worked long enough and well enough to print all the parts for my Kossel. A year or so back, I dropped it off at my local hackerspace. I doubt anyone’s found much use for it, but who knows…

  8. I have Makerbot #448, which is a pretty early one. It isn’t currently operational, but the only thing broken is the printed extruder. It was a surprisingly good machine. The Z-axis wobbles, it’s slow and loud, and the extruder was not great, but it could make some pretty good prints. I upgraded the extruder to one I printed, and the hot end to one from Makergear. The Z-axis was also upgraded to ACME rods, which helped the wobble a little bit. Plus it’s got a sweet paint job :)

    Pictured with a new hot end but the original extruder:

  9. #000488 here! actually got mine secondhand from Charles Pax of Paxtruder fame after he got a second one. Still had to assemble it though…

    Other than painting the case I didn’t really do any modifications to it, and it ran fine for a few years before being replaced by a Rostock Max. For its time it really was a revolutionary device, and the only way a kid like me could print stuff out in my dorm and bring to class the next-next day ( it took a while… )

  10. Mine is in working condition as well. It isn’t using the DC motor extruder because that motor died pretty soon but the stepper extruder. One issue those who upgraded to the extruder faced is that the original control hardware wasn’t meant to drive a stepper and an ugly hack was suggested at the time. This hack was never supported again in the subsequent versions of the control software so those who wanted to keep using the cupcake had to come up with better modifications in order to get the thing working. What a shit message I just wrote, isn’t it? only vague information and 0 details.

  11. The hackerspace I was a member of up until about a year ago still had a cupcake as it’s primary printer when I left. That cupcake is still the only printer I have ever successfully used! (a second cupcake being the only other printer I ever tried to use).

    That being said… The electronics and drive parts had been replaced with redesigned ones multiple times. I’m not sure if I ever used it in it’s original configuration although it was probably close to it in the beginning. That ‘cube’ is about what my print looked like then too! By the time I left the plywood shell and original motors were all that really made it a ‘cupcake’. They had new printers with bigger build areas that were still undergoing shakedown. I think the cupcakes’ owner took them home after those went online.

  12. Just wanted to add my tag here, I built the first makerbot using the released designs, so i have SBM001 (Scratch Built Makerbot) it was just as they were producing the first batch of cupcakes to sell. Wooo go me! its currently in the loft… probably going mouldy…

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