Making with the MakerBot

replicator23D-printing has come to our household thanks to the addition of a MakerBot Replicator 2 to our arsenal.

Replicator 2 is the latest and shiniest printer from MakerBot. In contrast to earlier versions it comes almost fully assembled and in a nice matte black finish. Out of the box all that was required was to remove the packing materials and add a couple of attachments, to allow for the spooling of the PLA wire which is the machine’s raw material. A set of instructions on the LCD screen take you through the set-up sequence step-by-step. You need to level the build table and insert the wire. Leveling the table still smacks a little of the old days – the process involves sliding a piece of paper between the nozzle and the build table and then judging how smoothly it slides while turning an adjustment screw. Clearly there’s some margin for error in the process.

Nicely the package comes built-in with some designs ready to print. So within minutes of opening the box you are producing your first 3D-printed object. In our case that was a little shark creature called Mr Jaws. After that the World’s your creative oyster.

You can download MakerWare which is specifically designed to take standard files and convert them to the format required for the Replicator. The software is simple and intuitive but seems a little unpolished. From reading the forums and blogs it lacks features expected by more advanced users than I. Creating something to print yourself requires some 3D software – for simplicity I’ve been using Sketchup which works fine although has a weird issue when exporting to MakerWare in that the objects seem to come in many times bigger than when they left Sketchup. That’s easily fixed by re-sizing, but is a little strange.

When it works smoothly from there all you do is select the file and let the Replicator print it out. After a few minutes you have a neat object in your hands. I have found that the process has gone wrong about as often as it has gone right. So thus far for each successfully printed object I’ve had one failure. The jury remains out on exactly how much of that is user-error.

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