Though 2014 wasn’t pleasant for MakerBot’s 5th generation devices due to the Smart Extruder problems and firmware quality just after releasing firmware 1.6, MakerBot Replicator 5th gen is fully ready for market and complex review.

First customer feedback

2014 was harsh time for MakerBot. Launch of 5th generation 3D printers was loud and successful but just until first customers tried to print. It might be cruel but at the very beginning MakerBot Replicator was just like handicapped hero: never ending print start-up, bad leveling, Smart Extruder causing more drawbacks than perks, firmware was unstable, 3D printer was very, very slow and it generated as much noise as working carpenter. Though MakerBot has been doing its best it took a lot of time to eliminate all problems. Till then we could have seen articles like this in the Internet:

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First light has been brought by firmware 1.4 and Smart Extruder version 12.0 Print quality was good and stable, Smart Extruder started to work properly and reliable. Then MakerBot tried to fix stitch on prints and filament threads with firmware 1.5 and with this release The Horror has Began.

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From left: Firmware 1.4 ——————————–> 1.5 —————————–> 1.6

1.5 update definitely brought more troubles than solutions. First of all it was unstable and you could not rely on your 3D printer. Finally on 6th of February 2015 MakerBot has released firmware 1.6. It surely brought MakerBot 5th generation 3D printers to the level where they belong. With this update there are no more retraction or prints quality issues. MakerBot Replicator has started to work great. Now you can click on “Print” button and return when print job is finished and what is most valuable – you are sure that this 3D printer won’t let you down and you will get what you expected when you has started your print.

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Specification

  • 3D printing technology: FDM (Fused Deposition Modeling)
  • Build platform: 252 x 199 x 150 mm
  • Resolution (layer high):
  • Low: 300 microns (0.3 mm)
  • Standard: 200 microns (0.2 mm)
  • High: 100 microns (0.1 mm)
  • Positioning accuracy:
  • XY: 11 microns
  • Z: 2.5 microns
  • Dedicated filament: MakerBot PLA
  • Filament diameter: 1.75 mm
  • Nozzle diameter: 0.4 mm
  • Build plate: glass
  • Number of extruders: 1
  • Connectivity: Wi-Fi, USB (cable, pendrive), Ethernet
  • Software: MakerBot Desktop (dedicated)

Features:

  • Smart Extruder (“filament jam” and “out of filament” detection)
  • auto-leveling
  • adjusting Z-offset
  • 3.5 inch LCD panel
  • build-in camera (320x 240)
  • 3D Printer remote control via Wi-Fi network and MakerBot Mobile App
  • MakerBot Mobile App

MakerBot Replicator 5th gen

This 3D printer is dedicated to individuals and professionals who wants to bring their ideas to life. Although it is one of the most expensive non-professional 3D printer on the market its value lies in reliability, easy-to-use, fine quality and 3D printing environment (MakerBot Desktop, MakerBot Mobile App). It’s price is 3320,10 euro according to MakerBot Europe store. Is it worth the money? I would try to answer that question in this review.

Start-up

After unboxing, plug-in and switching on you have got approximately 2-3 minutes until Replicator finishes its startup procedure (every turn on takes at least 2-3 minutes). In meantime you can admire its great steel and closed construction (of course it’s a matter of one’s taste). This closed design is very helpful to keep your 3D printer clean from dust and makes maintenance faster.
For operating you’ve got nice and clear 3.5 inch LCD panel and handy control knob. Thanks to those two it is simple, pleasant and intuitive. In addition LCD panel shows you every important information about current print (extruder temp., model preview, elapsed and remaining time,  layer high, shells, infill, raft, support), so you can easily check what and how it is printed.

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Photo: MakerBot Replicator 5th generation is intuitive and as easy to operate as it can be. 3.5 inch LCD panel is wide and clear and because of wide leadings between lines of text it is comfortable and readable.

Smart Extruder

Even though it wasn’t ready in the first months after release, MakerBot’s team worked stubbornly for its reliability. After these improvements one can say that this piece of technology is one of the greatest things in 5th gen MakerBot 3D printers (it refers to Smart Extruder v.12.0 or later).

The Smart Extruder being fully and easy exchangeable and what is most important – highly reliable. I can’t see any other solution on 3D printers market that gives you such comfort and undisturbed workflow as a Smart Extruder.

Smart Extruder is designed for using MakerBot PLA filament. If you want to obtain best results – just stick to PLA from MakerBot. But what if you want to experiment? In fact you have got couple choices:

  • Bronzefill/Copperfill – it seems like Smart Extruder is designed for this filament. Results are great and you won’t receive any bad feedback from Replicator. Just use 190 degrees
  • Flex filaments – don’t you ever try it. It is one way ticket
  • Wood composites – I won’t recommend that group of filaments. It breaks easily so it can be lost inside Smart Extruder (SmEx)
  • PLA from other producers – although they won’t break your SmEx they are troublesome – you need to check temperature on every one spool and suit it with your Replicator. If you would buy cheaper filament then you need to put your work and time. Calculation is the same either way – you rather won’t make any savings

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One of the worst nightmare about 3D printing is when filament is not extruding from the nozzle. There are many reasons for that – including bad luck – and this problem rather occurs surprisingly (e.g. after 9 hours of printing). Smart Extruder prevents you and your print from that problem by detecting every filament jam in its mechanism – if filament extrusion is somehow disturbed Smart Extruder detects it immediately and stops printing just in time so your print won’t be harmed. In addition after noticing filament jam via MakerBot Desktop or Mobile App the Replicator will automatically unload the filament for you, which is very user-friendly solution that saves your time.

Nozzle clog.

To prevent any problems with clogged nozzle if clog has just occurred and you can’t load filament, unload it and before anything else let Smart Extruder to cool. After hitting the 50 degree heat it up and load filament. You may need a little force and pliers to make it through. If you will stick to this rule you will never be forced to open it and manually remove filament (of course if you are using MakerBot filament).

Clogged extruder sometimes happens (once a month maybe) and I have deal with it many times when I was testing different filament on one of my Smart Extruders. I have learned one thing:  if you will try to fight clog with force without cooling it down in the first place believe me – more fights awaits you.

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Problems with Smart Extruder?

From approximately August 2014 standard is version 12.0. This Smart Extruder is stable and precise. I am using my own till now (may 2015) and everything seems to be fine.

After 8 months of constant printing with our Replicator 5th, Smart Extruder did not stop prints due to the filament jam only twice (filament was twisted on the spool preventing extrusion). For more or less thousand of prints during all this months rate of unsuccessful print jobs is rather low.

Summarizing,  in my opinion Smart Extruder works fine and is reliable. It is quintessence of MakerBot ideology: make 3D printing as user-friendly and reliable as it can be. With a Smart Extruder you can set your print and return when it’s finished.

Prints quality

5th gen Replicator can print with excellent quality. But in order to achieve that you need some experience in MakerWare (MakerBot Desktop slicer) configuration file and keep low print speed. If you meet these two conditions according to german grade system you will have your prints rated for 1.5 or even 1.0.  Replicator in comparison to other 3D printers is rather slow (e.g. Replicator 2, Ultimaker 2) so keeping low print speed is standard option. Gaining experience with MakerBot Desktop is also easy because of few options that you can change in custom slicing profile and clear description of each setting from MakerBot Support. It isn’t like Replicator offers the best 3D printing quality on the market. If you are experienced 3D printer user and you possess one of the bests 3D printers you could achieve even better results than 5th gen Replicator. MakerBot offers you good or very good quality – not the best – but in exchange you get reliable and easy-to-use device.

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3D printing Environment

It’s good to remember that 3D printing is a little bit frustrating technology. On every second of a print something can go wrong and waste whole process. Filament isn’t extruding properly or isn’t extruding at all, there is a gap in model outline, one fragment of the model just come off the build platform, there was a blob in the filament string that clogged the nozzle, etc. It can happen to every 3D printer on the market but what makes difference is 3D printing Environment.  If you are brilliant engineer it isn’t very hard to build your own 3D printer that prints well. What is really tough is to make it repetitive, reliable and so easy to use that even a little child will make a successful print. MakerBot is trying to meet those tough conditions by creating whole Environment for 3D printing.

So when you’re buying MakerBot Replicator 5th gen it is not only 3D printer. It is dedicated filament that is optimized to work properly with Smart Extruder. It is Smart Extruder which detects every problem with filament and stops the print before it is wasted. It is MakerBot Desktop which allows one that is not an engineer to spend 1 minute to set standard settings and click “Print” to obtain good results. It is MakerBot Desktop which is one program that gives you all-in-one:

  • Your personalized account
  • Personalized library of 3D models (your own or from Thingiverse)
  • One of the biggest 3D models database: Thingiverse
  • Preparing (slicing) and printing on every MakerBot 3D printer
  • Communication with 3D printers: updates, printer preferences, slicing and printing
  • MakerBot support video database (“Learn”)

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It is MakerBot support and MakerCare and finally MakerBot Mobile App (monitoring, setting and watching print in your mobile phone is unbelievable handy and cutting-edge but its full potential waits for operating via Internet not only local network).

Although there is still a lot to improve in MakerBot Desktop, Mobile App or even Replicator firmware it is the only one such complex and well working solution of 3D printing Environment on the market. If you compare prices of MakerBot’s 3D printers and others producers, MakerBot is one of the most expensive. But if you compare your convenience, reliability, time that you spend working with 3D printer to obtain good results, percentage of successful prints and level of frustration, MakerBot seems really cheap.

Conclusion

MakerBot Replicator 5th generation was launched too early on the market which causes various opinions about its worth. Starting from february 2015 when firmware 1.6 has been launched things are different. One of the most expensive non-professional 3D printer on the market is designed especially for these who wants good quality prints, reliable, convenient and  easy-to use machine. If you value your time, you don’t have ambition to be Master 3D Printer and you want your work with 3D printer to be effective – MakerBot Replicator 5th gen is definitely for you and it’s far worth its money.

Drawbacks

  1. Print speed. Replicator 5th gen is extremely slow. One of the reason is outline speed (outline is an outer shell of your print) that is by default set to 20 mm/s. Keeping this speed is crucial for more complicated models but in some cases could be set higher. Even if you set every speed setting exactly the same as Replicator 2 or 2X, they will print about 30% faster than 5th gen.
  2. Noise. After installing firmware 1.6 it is a little bit better but still Replicator generates nearly as much noise as working carpenter
  3. Price. Is one the highest amongst non-professional 3D printer with such build volume. But is it really a perk? Check below before you make your mind.
  4. Assisted leveling. Although it is one the must feature and is really helpful I would expect something more from 5th generation 3D printer. It is not precise. Or maybe I need “Learn video” to make it 100% right?

Perks

  1. Reliable. You can be sure that 90/95% of your prints will be good quality.
  2. Convenient/easy-to-use. Wide and clear (3.5”) LCD panel, intuitive navigation knob, dedicated software that lets you set your print with about 30 seconds.
  3. Effective – Replicator saves your time because of standard print options that are suited to be most effective.
  4. Workmanship. It is made of high quality materials and it just looks great and professional.
  5. Print quality. It is repetitive and very good. In most cases you will be satisfied.
  6. Assisted leveling. It saves your time. Instruction on LCD panel is so clear that anyone can level the 3D printer. Although I put it in the drawbacks this function works good enough to be helpful.
  7. Smart Extruder. Thanks to the “end of filament” and ‘filament jam” detection this part brings 3D printing to higher level. No more printing “in the air” and broken prints. Smart Extruder is reliable and reduces failure to minimum. It is also easy exchangeable so anyone can change damaged one.
  8. 3D printing environment (MakerBot Desktop). Your time, convenience and cutting-edge technology. You won’t find 3D printer that can be operated from mobile phone.

MAKERBOT REPLICATOR 5TH GENERATION SCORE: 9/10

Karol Krawczynski
Speleologist and RPG fan. Analyst, manager, editor and entrepreneur. Connected with 3D printing from the beginning of 2013. Co-creator of Start-Up of Ekoteria and AMSolutions.

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