MakerBot goes all out with 3 new 3D printers and new software

MakerBot Replicator Z18

MakerBot diversified its 3D printer offerings today at CES when it revealed a new generation of its flagship Replicator printer, plus a mini and jumbo version that target beginner and advanced users.

Doing his best Steve Jobs impression, CEO Bre Pettis spent a half hour regaling the crowd with MakerBot accomplishments before revealing that three black boxes perched on stage contained the new printers.

The new MakerBot Replicator. Photo courtesy of MakerBot.

The new MakerBot Replicator. Photo courtesy of MakerBot.

Dubbed the Replicator Mini, Replicator and Replicator Z18, the three printers share a group of needed new features. MakerBot printers now come with a 3.5 inch color LCD screen that allows users to monitor their print jobs, connect over Wi-Fi or ethernet and more. They all play nice with a new MakerBot mobile app and are equipped with a camera that can showcase real-time photos and videos of a print job in progress. The Mini prints at a 200 micron resolution. The two larger printers are capable of 100 micron resolution. All three are compatible with PLA filament, further cementing MakerBot’s preference for the biodegradable alternative to ABS plastic.

The new smart extruder. Photo courtesy of MakerBot.

The new smart extruder. Photo courtesy of MakerBot.

They also come with a “smart” extruder that alerts you when the filament supply runs out and automatically pauses a print job until new filament has been loaded, after which the printer restarts from where it left off. The extruder snaps in and out of the printer via magnets, which makes it easier to feed filament in and out. This is an awesome idea; no more clumsily reaching into nooks and crannies to fiddle with the head.

MakerBot has also finally started making print bed leveling easier. This is a major headache for beginners and pros alike, who don’t know how to or don’t like to match the print head up with the print platform every time they start a new print. The Replicator and Z18 come with leveling assistance; just turn a knob, and a light will illuminate when you have successfully leveled. Leveling on the Mini is totally automatic.

The Mini has a build volume of 75 cubic inches and will cost $1,375. The new Replicator is 456 cubic inches and costs $2,899. The Z18 is 2,592 cubic inches and will retail for $6,499. The Replicator is available now, and the other two will ship this spring.

The MakerBot Replicator Z18. Photo courtesy of MakerBot.

The MakerBot Replicator Z18. Photo courtesy of MakerBot.

“This is industrial strength 3D printing,” Pettis said of the Z18, which has an enclosed heated build chamber to keep large objects from warping as they print.

Pettis also announced a slew of other new features, plus the start of an exclusive partnership with SoftKinetic to create future MakerBot 3D scanners.

“They’re super hardcore badasses and we get to work with them to develop the next generation, the future 3d scanners of tomorrow,” Pettis said.

I haven’t heard great things about the MakerBot Digitizer, the company’s first venture into 3D scanning, so this is likely a smart move. 3D scanners are going to become even more important offerings from 3D printer companies as the field develops.

The MakerBot Replicator Mini. Photo courtesy of MakerBot.

The MakerBot Replicator Mini. Photo courtesy of MakerBot.

New features from MakerBot include the new mobile app, plus a free desktop software suite. Users will be able to monitor and control their prints, access their existing MakerWare print software and store 3D designs within the suite. MakerBot has also developed a basic design program that will help people make simple objects like word plates and bracelets. Both the desktop and mobile software can alert users when their print job is done. Pettis said MakerBot will also begin selling collections of toys starting at 99 cents an item or $9.99 a set. The toy-themed collections include rockets, animals and knights.

This is MakerBot’s fifth year at CES. A visibly excited Pettis spent a few moments near the beginning of his talk reflecting on CES’s role in bringing visibility to the once-small MakerBot.

“When we first showed up here, I won a 10 by 10 booth in the way, way, way back in a startup battle,” Pettis said.

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