I was given the extraordinary privilege of working with a 3D printer, something that not many people can say. Being a mechanical engineering background with a creative imagination on the side, it was an extremely exciting experience seeing design concepts be made into something I could physically hold in my hand.
The particular 3D Printer that I was given the opportunity to use was the MakerBot Replicator+. This machine features a 30% faster print speed and a 25
% larger build volume than past MakerBot models. It also features an onboard camera that allows users to document the results of a print and see the live progress of any print through the desktop or mobile software. The connectivity of the machine is also something MakerBot improved from previous models, allowing this machine to connect via Wi-Fi, Ethernet, USB-stick, or USB-cable.
Like their other newer models, this MakerBot machine can be paired with MakerBot Print, a software that allows users to discover new 3D print designs, prepare new designs, manage designs before, during, and after the print process, and share their print designs. It also uses MakerBot’s new Tough PLA filament. This newly designed filament is designed to be as tough as ABS filament with the reliability of normal PLA filament. It is made for high-impact durability, which can be ideal for prototyping and fixtures.
Having no 3D printing experience prior to this machine, I was hesitant to test the machine’s capabilities when I first started out. Many of the first designs that I printed were simple. The first print, in fact, was a four link chain that came from a design file built into the machine. What was cool about this print is that the chain links were printed as a final product with no assembly required. The design was made in a way that the links were already intertwined as it was printed.
Once I got more printing experience with the machine, I began broadening my design concepts. I would spend hours exploring Thingiverse.com in search for new designs. This site allows you to download shared design files and print just about anything you can imagine. This site proved to be a very useful tool, as was its connected software called TinkerCAD. This allows users to build designs using predesigned shapes and connector pieces. While this may limit a user with a specific design in mind, it is a useful tool for someone wanting to learn the basics.
In my time using the machine, I learned many things about the MakerBot Replicator +. The machine is ideal for certain markets or users. By this, I mean that the machine has strengths for a certain field of prints, but has trouble with others. For example, I was learning to use this machine in the hopes to be able to design and create small fidgets toys and tools for patients with certain ailments such as ADHD or arthritis. The fidgets are designed to be small handheld toys that can be used to help focus the nervous energy or need to move into the fidget itself. Some of the arthritis aiding tools that I printed includes a shirt button assist tool, a key holder that also worked as an extended surface for the user to grip while unlocking a door, and a writing utensil holder that would help someone who may not be able to grip a pen or pencil.
Other prints that I worked with were education oriented. I printed models of a DNA strand, a replica T-Rex skull, and a replica vertebrae bone. These prints could be crucial in the classroom. Students would not only be able to see and print these themselves, but also get their hands on the physical replicas rather than only looking at pictures in a textbook. In some instances, especially the replica vertebrae model, this technology could hopefully be used more in-depth in the medical field. Paired with information that is obtained with, for example, an x-ray, perhaps a 3D printed model of a specific patient’s bone structure could help a surgeon prepare for what they should expect.
While the machine provides a variety of design options, design capabilities, and provides a number of possible uses in the foreseeable future, there were a handful of issues that I encountered with the machine. One thing that I noticed with MakerBot’s machines is that they are only designed for their own filament and using a different kind would void any warranty. This is compared to machines by different companies that promote the use of other filaments in the hopes that it takes creativity with this technology even further.
Another issue that I often ran into was the larger surface area on the build plate that a print covered, it was more likely that the bottom layer would warp in at least one of the corners. There are many possible fixes for this issue listed online, but none seemed to work. I have toyed with various possible fixes, but none have really solved this issue. The next logical step was to contact MakerBot’s support, but my attempts in doing so were not helpful either. This advanced technology may require a more hands-on tutorial to solve the issue rather than trying to fix the issue over the phone.
While it has its limitations, the MakerBot Replicator + is a remarkable piece of technology and has great potential to help various markets. Whether it is used to make fidgets and toys, or replicas and models for the classroom, this MakerBot machine, paired with Thingiverse and TinkerCAD, has the capabilities to provide, teach, and inspire.