Maker of Replicator Mini - First Impressions

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Maker of Replicator Mini - First Impressions

Postby orangefurball » 2016-Apr-Fri-02-Apr

Hey everyone! I recently got a great deal on a Makerbot Replicator Mini. It was right around $259 brand new. I decided I couldn't pass up the deal to see what they pack in here to warrant the $1300 price tag.

So here goes my mini review/first impressions.

First off let me talk about the build quality. It is a metal frame with black plastic panels on all sides. The bottom has rubber feet that feel really nice. The plastic pieces are large, because of this there are some visual distortions in the plastic that come from it not cooking evenly while being molded. Doesn't have that much of an effect, but it is still there.

As for the insides, the printer is assembled using a sort of modified CoreXY gantry which means both motors are stationary on the frame and work together to make X or Y movements. This is unlike the Printrbots that most of you are accustomed to, where only the X motor is used for X movements and the Y used for Y movements. The printer does use standard GT2 belts, although they are wider than the 5-6mm used on RepRap machines.

The 3D printer is LOUD. So loud in fact that I can hear it from a couple rooms away in my house. I don't know what causes the noise, but it screams louder than a newborn. Something to keep in mind if you plan on shelling out the absurd amount of money they want for this thing.

There are no rods or extrusions for linear motion, only rails. This explains some of the reason for the high price of the unit; rails are expensive compared to rods or extrusions. It still does not excuse the $1300 price tag though.

The Z motion does not use rails, rods, or extrusions. Instead, there are two plastic gears mounded on the bed plate that ride on the injection molded frame piece in the back. The gears aren't connected to any motors, they just act as a rail type of thing for the bed to ride on. The bed is moved by a T8 screw. These screws are faster than the 8mm and 1/4" threaded rods that we are used to seeing on Printrbots as they are usually around 400 steps per mm compared to the ~2015 steps per mm of the 1/4" threaded rod.

That covers just about all of the X Y and Z motion. Now onto the troublesome part: the Smart Extruder.

The Smart Extruder is an interesting little thing. It uses 4 magnets to affix itself to the X gantry and a series of pogo pins to relay data and power to and from the main board. This means you can easily take he extruder off is there is an issue, or pay $200 for the Smart Extruder + and swap it out in a few seconds. Though purchasing a $200 part to replace the hunk of junk they include doesn't sound like something that should need to happen on a $1k+ 3D printer.

So what makes the "Smart Extruder" (I'll call it SE from now on) so smart? I cracked it open to find out. I'll start from the top and go down. First of all there are two different filament inputs. One is angled at 45 degrees to allow the PTFE to fit under the top door that Makerbot never released, and the other is straight up. The filament then runs past an encoder wheel that tells the printer whether filament is running though it or not. This is the cause of the false jams that happen so often with the SE.

Next up is the filament drive gear and idler. The idler is just a bearing on a plastic arm that can be accessed from the outside for removing stuck filament and the drive gear is pretty similar in size to the MK7 gear that Printrbot uses. However it is connected to a special piece that I'll take about later.

Further down we find the hot end. The hot end is a pretty standard design. Heater block on bottom with thermistor and heater inside with a small heatsink on top. The interesting part is how it is mounted. It is on a spring loaded plastic piece that has a magnet on it. The hot end will push into the SE unit and move the magnet up, which trips a Hall Effect sensor that acts like a Z Min endstop. This was pretty much the most interesting part of the printer to me.

That's the inside of the SE wrapped up. Notice how I didn't talk about a motor though? That's where things get interesting.

I did mention before that the SE drive gear had a special part on it. Well, it turns out this special part is actual a key of sorts that lines up with the Extruder motor that is also keyed. This makes the SE drive gear spin. It's hard to explain, but the Extruder motor is inside of the X gantry, completely separate from the drive gear. A very cool design for the swappable Extruder system.

The bed is another important thing to talk about. It easily pops in and out making print removal stupidly simple. It is however made of plastic which I really don't like. If something goes wrong, the hot end can just burn right through it. It is also non heated. Meaning you can only print PLA. $1300 and it only prints PLA.. That seems a little crazy.

It's time to talk about what it the most important part: print quality. It's good. Surprisingly good actually. It didn't hit the same level of quality as my Thingybot due to the inability to adjust simple settings, but it was better quality than my CoreXY machines. All in all I would say it's totally passable as an individual's only printer, except for the tiny 3.9x3.9x4.7" build volume.

The Makerbot Desktop software is ok. It's not very easy to adjust printer settings, and most of the settings are unavailable with no explanation on why I can't gain access to them. But it is neat to watch prints away from home with the built in webcam and WiFi capabilities. The app works great for this and, using TeamViewer and a friend's computer, I was able to operate and watch my printer from across the country. Though this means nothing when you get the "Filament jam!" Message, which happens 30-50% of the time. I replaced the PTFE tube with some spare length that I had lying around and it seems to have improved quite a bit.

I guess that's all for now. Here is a TL;DR since this short overview turned into a wall of text.

Printer is loud, jams all the time, can only print PLA, and doesn't have many configurable print settings. But it does have some nice features in the software, solid build quality, and creates some nice looking prints. Not worth $1300, but if you find it for $300-400 I would say it is worth it.



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Cubify Cube3 & Makerbot Replicator Mini

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Maker of Replicator Mini - First Impressions

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Re: Maker of Replicator Mini - First Impressions

Postby Mooselake » 2016-Apr-Fri-16-Apr

Might be a valuable classic in a few years, now that Makerbot has canned their US production people and moved to a Chinese manufacturer. You have one of the last US produced models.

Kirk
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Re: Maker of Replicator Mini - First Impressions

Postby orangefurball » 2016-Apr-Fri-17-Apr

Mooselake wrote:Might be a valuable classic in a few years, now that Makerbot has canned their US production people and moved to a Chinese manufacturer. You have one of the last US produced models.

Kirk

It's a shame too. I'm not sure how they think moving production to China will solve their quality control issues.
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2 CoreXY Machines 200x200x200/600mm
Cubify Cube3 & Makerbot Replicator Mini

Thingybot Delta Printer
150x150x200mm circular build volume, high precision open source 3D printer.

http://www.thingybot3d.com
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orangefurball
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Re: Maker of Replicator Mini - First Impressions

Postby orangefurball » 2016-May-Sun-02-May

Had to pop open the Extruder to unclog some filament today. I would presume this would be what would get most people to send theirs in for repair as this is breaking the warranty.

Now I can't break a seal without taking a few pictures of course!

Image1462087517.237208.jpg
the Extruder itself

Image1462087538.742634.jpg
the Hobbed gear and main board along with the rest of the goodies inside.

Image1462087566.988780.jpg
the indler arm and bearing


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2 CoreXY Machines 200x200x200/600mm
Cubify Cube3 & Makerbot Replicator Mini

Thingybot Delta Printer
150x150x200mm circular build volume, high precision open source 3D printer.

http://www.thingybot3d.com
User avatar
orangefurball
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Posts: 1022
Joined: 2014-Apr-Mon-22-Apr
Location: Scranton, PA
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