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Makerbot Thing-o-Matic 3D Printer Review 117

Posted by timothy
from the not-for-the-faint-of-heart dept.
rsk points out this "review of the $1200 Makerbot Thing-o-Matic 3D printer. After a 16-hour self-assembly and a few weeks of use, a blown PSU was replaced with a higher powered PSU via a mod to the Thing-o-Matic. Video of the Thing-o-Matic printing out little solar panel mounts from Google Sketch-up included in the review. Final thoughts suggest that the Thing-o-Matic is not a great gift for non-engineers: 'You need a decent understanding of robotics, hardware, software, electronics and mechanics, need a little hand dexterity and a ton of patience.'"
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Makerbot Thing-o-Matic 3D Printer Review

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  • Cool (Score:4, Funny)

    by Dunbal (464142) * on Friday January 21, 2011 @09:00PM (#34961656)

    I want to know what software he used to make those cats!

    • by ConMotto (586959)
      Ahaha... I used the Arizona Human Society to adopted Leonidas Snotbomb Lee at approximately four weeks old. :) HE WUVS YOU!!!
  • Hello (Score:1, Offtopic)

    by kumma (1077987)
    Reprap?
    • by phooky (645)

      It's a descendant of reprap; the gen3 electronics were designed for the reprap project. The idea of the Cupcake was to drop the self-replicating constraint and focus on kit manufacturability... which isn't to say the Cupcake can't self-replicate [thingiverse.com].

  • I would think... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by camperdave (969942) on Friday January 21, 2011 @09:22PM (#34961802) Journal
    Wouldn't it be more accurate to move the head around rather than moving the part? What if your plastic hasn't set yet? Jiggling it around while it is hardening is probably not good for getting an accurate part.
    • Re: (Score:1, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Have you seen the parts this thing prints? "Accurate" is not what I would call it.

      I'm not sure why people like these so much. Yeah it's a cool idea but these are barely useable because the results are not even remotely smooth, they're brittle and only loosely resemble the model.

      • by Eponymous Coward (6097) on Friday January 21, 2011 @10:29PM (#34962164)

        Did you see the first personal computers? They were useless toys compared to even the minicomputers of the day. Barely any RAM and no interactive display. Entering programs was laborious and error prone.

      • by Sir_Lewk (967686)

        Yeah, there's no way you could use parts printed from something like RepRap to make something as complex as say, another 3d printer. ..oh wait...

        • Re: (Score:2, Troll)

          by rubycodez (864176)
          hahah, RerRap is a joke, it can't make its circuit boards, motors, sensors, not even its threaded rods for that piss-poorly "engineered" tinker toy frame. A child's toy for today's arrested development boys in men's skins. A milling machine can replicate itself, motor and all. Note I didn't even put the letters CNC in front of milling machine, replication of non-CNC milling machines by themselves was a done deal in the 1950s or perhaps even earlier.
          • by Sparr0 (451780)

            There are already prototypes for the next generation of reprap that can print their own circuit boards. These are all just incremental steps, and they are getting closer together. Combining an additive printer with a subtractive milling machine is coming.

      • Re:I would think... (Score:4, Interesting)

        by Z34107 (925136) on Saturday January 22, 2011 @01:40AM (#34963018)

        Maximum PC did an article on this thing. They managed to print a whistle (with the captive pea inside). One Cathal Garvey, a geneticist, is using it to stave off having to buy a few million worth of lab equipment; see the dremel-powered centrifuge [thingiverse.com] or the microlathe. [thingiverse.com]

        So, it's not perfect or self-replicating, but you can do some cool stuff with it. Non-geneticists might appreciate being able to machine replacements [thingiverse.com] for all the brittle plastic shit that can break, or just get their own Master Chief [thingiverse.com] statue.

        • by risom (1400035)

          So, it's not perfect or self-replicating, but you can do some cool stuff with it.

          Quite an interesting development, indeed. If a higher level of self-replication is wanted, however, it's worth mentioning Reprap [reprap.org], of which Makerbot is a commercial spin-off (e.g. Makerbot is to Reprap what Ubuntu is to Debian). Reprap has an explicit design goal of maximizing the level of self-replication.

    • by Osgeld (1900440)

      well not that I have one, but have used one ...

      1) the plastic is not that wobbly, its not gel :-)
      2) everything I have seen that was made by a home made extruder requires finishing to some degree, accuracy is not the 100% goal if you pursue a machine of this type

    • Previous printer designs put a lot of stress on the head moving around because it had the full extruder on it. Cupcake (and subsequently the Thingomatic) had stationary z-axis-only head. Like it was said below, they aren't jiggly. The plastic firms up quite quickly.
    • Re:I would think... (Score:4, Interesting)

      by theheadlessrabbit (1022587) on Saturday January 22, 2011 @01:00AM (#34962868) Homepage Journal

      I've played around with a makerbot. It might seem like the plastic would jiggle on the moving base, but it really isn't a problem at all.

      The biggest problem I've seen with the makerbot is the z-axis, the standard bars are too flexible, causing alignment problems on taller objects.

      My verdict on the makerbot: toy, not tool.

      • by Sparr0 (451780)

        You need a set of wobble arrestors [thingiverse.com].

        • by dbc (135354)

          Actually, wobble in the Cupcake comes from sloppy assembly. First, make sure the rods are straight. But even given straight rods, realize that you are putting imperial size threaded rods into a metric bearing -- lots of slop there. The best fix is to get some solid wire of the right gauge (#28 or so) and wrap it in the threads before putting the rods into the bearings. That keeps the rods centered as you tighten them onto the bearing. Wobble gone. Wobble arrestors are a band-aid on the symptom, not a f

      • by scribblej (195445)

        This is only true on the discontinued Makerbot Cupcake. The Thing-O-Matic rods are VERY solid.

    • Re:I would think... (Score:5, Informative)

      by phooky (645) on Saturday January 22, 2011 @01:54AM (#34963060)

      We initially inverted the head/model relationship because (at least when we were getting started) the extruder was a heavy, delicate bit of equipment, and the models being printed were very small and light. Moving the model means moving less mass. If you're printing in ABS, the material is viscous and sticky enough right out of the nozzle that it isn't perturbed by the platform motion. The disadvantage of this scheme is that it reduces your build area significantly, you need good model/platform adhesion, and tall models have a bit of an inverted pendulum effect. However, you don't have to worry about the head getting jammed or shaking apart as it slams back and forth at high speed.

      • That's still kind of sidestepping the question.

        The commercial models I have seen all move the head, not the part.
        • by drinkypoo (153816)

          I just watched a carabiner being printed on a thing-o-matic ("just" as in "and then I drove from Watsonville to Santa Cruz and drank a glass of water and began Slashdotting") and it leaves quite a bit to be desired. The machine is flimsy and has weird harmonics if you step around jaggedly, which is often quite handy to do. The stock hot head and its control board are crufty at best. The work area is 1/4 the size of the competitor and the means for controlling the amount of working material delivered is not

          • If so, I would be interested in knowing what that system is.
          • by scribblej (195445)

            Which other system is both easier and cheaper?

            Reprap Prusa; cheaper, not easier. Same results.
            UP!; easier, not cheaper. Better results.

            Are there any other serious contenders before you get completely out of desktop price range?

        • by Bigjeff5 (1143585)

          It started with earlier versions due to design considerations, and hasn't been changed.

          I don't see how that is side-stepping the question. Sounds more like directly answering it, to me.

    • The extruder assembly is much heavier than the largest plastic objects you might print. with this machine you can print a lot faster (with cheaper, smaller stepper motors) if you move the build platform rather than the extruder.
    • by scribblej (195445)

      The print head moves in Z. There are some problems due to moving the model, but the plastic sets immediately, and in fact most people use heated platforms to print on to keep it a bit warm and tacky, but it still isn't going to jiggle around.

      The mass of the entire model and platform moving around does mean you have to have things tuned pretty well and big models can sometimes shake things up a bit.

  • "3D Printer?" (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward

    Why not call it what it is, a consumer-oriented CNC milling machine. It is arguably in the same family of devices as the 5-axis Hermle C60s in the factory where I work. (We use those giant machines to cut some really *tiny* parts, it's pretty awesome to watch them do their thing.)

    I'm not knocking the Thing-o-Matic in any way. I want one.

  • He is mentioned in this article. He is awesome and deserves all of the adoration he will receive for his work at Makerbot.

    Truly.

  • by adolf (21054)

    I think I'd rather have the laser burn table that they used to cut out various parts of the Thing-o-Matic (such as the plywood shell), than a machine that prints stuff from plastic.

    But then, I like to make big things, instead of little things. :)

    • by Animats (122034) on Saturday January 22, 2011 @12:21AM (#34962672) Homepage

      I think I'd rather have the laser burn table that they used to cut out various parts of the Thing-o-Matic (such as the plywood shell), than a machine that prints stuff from plastic.

      The desk-sized laser cutters are the most popular machines at TechShop. They're easy to use, easy to program (all they need is line art), and will cut up to 3/8" plywood. The size limit is 18" x 24". They'll cut wood and many plastics, but not metals - that takes a much more powerful model.

      Making small plastic parts by injection molding is an incredibly cheap operation in quantity. Making one-off parts with a MakerBot like device is a slow, expensive process, and the surface quality will be lower. On the other hand, cutting stuff out of sheet stock with laser cutters, plasma cutters, and water-jet cutters is fast; it's useful as a production process.

      • by hcdejong (561314)

        Laser cutters are useful for other types of work than 3D printers. A laser cutter is 2D. For my hobby (building scale models) a 2D cutter has limited value because most of the parts I need are in 3D.

      • by Sparr0 (451780)

        But what if you only need one part?

  • Quality control? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by detritus` (32392) <awitzke@@@wesayso...org> on Friday January 21, 2011 @10:33PM (#34962194) Homepage Journal

    I was seriously considering picking one of these up as i tend to do a lot of low level fabrication (right up to casting noble and non-noble metals) and have yet to find a reasonable and quick method to fab plastics. However looking on the website and reading the review the quality of this product seems extremely questionable, not only did this one unit have 2 major issues within the first day of running (with a complex system like this not exactly a horrid start) but the company itself has a blog post on the front page about how its favorite customer service interaction was one in which the customer decided to fix all the problems on their unit themselves. So my first two impressions are that this unit will most likely be in a state of disrepair in between quick burts of usefulness? I'd rather just submit my renderings to online stores and pay the shipping, etc. simply for the lack of frustration. Now if they got these problems under control i'd have one tomorrow.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      I was seriously considering picking one of these up as i tend to do a lot of low level fabrication (right up to casting noble and non-noble metals) and have yet to find a reasonable and quick method to fab plastics.

      Small, relatively cheap (about the same price as this Makerbot) CNC milling machines can carve up blocks of ABS or Teflon or whatnot like there's no tomorrow.

      • Re: (Score:2, Flamebait)

        by rubycodez (864176)
        large, real metal cutting milling machines can also be had used for that price range, and you can add CNC over time while first learning the tricks of the trade. Instead of cutting plastic or sugar, learn to make real fucking machines with a real fucking machine.
        • by Idarubicin (579475) <allsquietNO@SPAMhotmail.com> on Saturday January 22, 2011 @12:38AM (#34962754) Journal

          large, real metal cutting milling machines can also be had used for that price range, and you can add CNC over time while first learning the tricks of the trade. Instead of cutting plastic or sugar, learn to make real fucking machines with a real fucking machine.

          Not everyone wants to commit the time and money to train to be a fully-fledged machinist. Not every job requires (or is even properly done with) metal parts. Not every designer wants to spend a week in the shop making ten identical copies of a widget for a prototype when his time would be better spent at the drafting table. Not every shop wants to hire half a dozen machinists when they can hire one to oversee a bunch of CNC mills.

          In short, don't be a condescending ass.

          • In short, don't be a condescending ass.

            Perhaps you should take your own advice...

          • by ConMotto (586959)
            Hi, I'm the author of TFA. I generally agree with you. It's definitely NOT something you'd use to replace $200K of aircraft-grade machinery, but more than adaquate for computer geeks (such as myself) for the occasional project. Considering that the price of such machines is only going to come down in the next 10 years, I don't see any reason why all manner of engineers couldn't--in the forseeable future--have one at their disposal. With a bit more polish and robustness, home fabrication could eventually be
          • by rubycodez (864176)
            but this type of FDM system just has abysmal tolerances on the parts it produces, too horribly bad for any useful "widget" it's not being a condescending ass to say "why blow large amount of money for half-assed crap when you can get something really, really good that can work in sugar or plastic or steel, that can last your whole life"
            • but this type of FDM system just has abysmal tolerances on the parts it produces, too horribly bad for any useful "widget" it's not being a condescending ass to say "why blow large amount of money for half-assed crap when you can get something really, really good that can work in sugar or plastic or steel, that can last your whole life"

              Your condescending remark would have made more sense (but wouldn't have been any less gratuitously rude) had you been replying to a comment endorsing the FDM 'Thing-o-Matic' system in the article. The post to which you responded, however, was discussing small CNC milling systems designed to work in plastic and capable of generating useful parts with reasonable tolerances. There exist situations (not particularly uncommon ones, either) where having a smaller, less-capable CNC mill makes more sense as a pu

        • by Tintivilus (88810)

          Man, why is this concept so difficult to grasp? It's. Not. A. Milling. Machine.

          It's an FDM [wikipedia.org]

          Jobs for one are rarely jobs for the other

          • by rubycodez (864176)
            And what did people do before the FDM became good enough in the 90s, for plastic housings and soft tools and molds? What do they do NOW when they need a solution with better than the hundredths of an inch sloppiness of typical FDM? Back to the milling machine.....jobs for the milling machine often can't be jobs for the FDM, you're half right.
        • and then you can hire copious amounts of pseudo-porn stars to use said machine. www.fuckingmachines.com (yes, real. YES, VERY NSFW) and I do believe you cab do that on a cnc. But what about the latex? ;)
        • My cousin works in the industry, during the last down turn he would go to auctions and said that some milling machines were selling for scrap metal prices.

      • by jamesh (87723)

        Have you ever actually seen a cheap (or even an expensive) milling machine in operation?

        I can see what the attraction is with a printing solution rather than a cutting solution. Milling is messy, and certainly not something you'd want to do in your lounge room.

        • by GaryOlson (737642)
          Milling is only messy because the impetus of industrial machining is minimizing machine time to minimize cost and increase profits. If the depth and speed of cut is modified from maximum productivity to chip control, the mess can be effectively contained. [assuming you are not cutting 304L stainless or similarly disgustingly obstinate material]. Tooling will need to be chosen to minimize heating instead of maximizing cut volume.
    • by Anonymous Coward

      "Now if they got these problems under control i'd have one tomorrow."

      That's what I tried to tell people about these horseless carriages, but they didn't believe me. Still have my trusty steed. I remember a joke about GM making cars like Microsoft; look who's laughing now.

      - Mr. Ed

    • by damburger (981828)
      TBH sounds like the same complaints people could've made about home computer kits in the late 1970's. Give this technology 20-30 years and it will be smooth, shiny and work out of the box - providing it isn't killed by the content holders.
    • It does seem that the RepRap [reprap.org] is of higher quality. I didn't do any hard core searching, but all the comments about them only seem to be unhappy with the customer service of the places selling them. The quality seems much better than the descriptions of the thing-o-matic. The RepRap version that is sold pre-assembled by Botmill [botmill.com] is only $1400, but they get terrible reviews for their customer service. The kits are much cheaper at many places ($600), have a look at the RepRap wiki. The RepRap is the one that wa
    • by scribblej (195445)

      If you have more money and want something that is quality out of the box, that you don't have to build, check into the UP! printer.

  • by smellsofbikes (890263) on Friday January 21, 2011 @11:59PM (#34962578) Journal
    The Smell Of Molten Solder In The Morning [softsolder.com] blog has spent the last week and change writing about mods he's done to his thing-o-matic, with sections on reducing static buildup [softsolder.com] that can discharge and fry electronics, rewiring part of the power supply [softsolder.com] to allow separate volatile and high-power sections, and thermally characterizing and modifying [softsolder.com] the heater system on the extruder head, including a big chunk on how to calibrate thermocouples.

    I'm looking forwards to seeing what he builds once he's gotten done rebuilding the machine.

    Sure, it's a lot of work to put into a brand-new machine, but anyone who has bought a Chinese mill or lathe machine knows that a right-out-of-the-box rebuild sure helps the accuracy [mini-lathe.com]. Even with simple tools like wood chisels, the first thing you do is resharpen them because the from-the-factory job is nearly worthless, so it's hardly surprising that an amateur-designed, amateur-built, and kit-built-by-amateur 3D printer would need some work.

  • by dbc (135354) on Saturday January 22, 2011 @12:22AM (#34962682)

    I've had one of the Makerbot Cupcakes for quite a while. Great fun to build and operate -- if you are a tinkerer and enjoy making things work, and tweaking them until they work, and tuning them again when they quit working. If you don't happen to have the tinkerer gene, then they are not for you. I tell anyone that asks me about it: "It's not turnkey like a laser printer, it's a lifestyle choice."

    Outrageous good fun, though, if you like that sort of thing. My last few prints: a pair of wheels for a robot, a bracket to mount an Android phone on a robot, and a cookie cutter to give as a gift. In between, my daughter has been printing doll house furniture.

    • by zeroeth (1957660)

      .. In between, my daughter has been printing doll house furniture.

      I think this is one of its (and these online 3d printers that keep popping up) excel at, custom one-off small scale items. I know some grownups who are addicted to their doll house furniture. The would flip if you showed them Google sketchup's furniture shape library and said 'print out whatever you want'!

  • by frovingslosh (582462) on Saturday January 22, 2011 @12:23AM (#34962688)

    After a 16-hour self-assembly

    Now I'm impressed, I had no idea that it could self assemble, I expected that the guy who bought it would have to put it together.

    • After a 16-hour self-assembly

      Now I'm impressed, I had no idea that it could self assemble, I expected that the guy who bought it would have to put it together.

      I can't tell if you're kidding - but it didn't self-assemble. I guess the submitter either didn't read the article, or else doesn't know that self assembly [wikipedia.org] has a specific meaning in engineering parlance.

  • was the kitty
  • I just started assembly of a Makerbot Cupcake. Unboxing & some assembly photos here:
    http://www.alephobjects.com/photos/printers/makerbot/cupcake/ [alephobjects.com]

    I have some other printers as well, in various states, more photos:
    http://www.alephobjects.com/photos/printers/ [alephobjects.com]

    The Makerbot stuff is very well documented relative to the other projects.

    -Jeff Moe

  • For anyone interested in CNC milling and casting, both of which are tangentially related and informative to this, have a look at these excellent writings: http://lcamtuf.coredump.cx/guerrilla_cnc1.shtml [coredump.cx] http://lcamtuf.coredump.cx/guerrilla_cnc2.shtml [coredump.cx]
  • I find no mention of handling fumes. Burning ABS plastic is notoriously toxic, one of the main things that has been holding me back from tackling this for a home installation. Ideally one would construct a fume hood of sorts and then vent it externally to the home, but there are also issues with exactly how/where and also filtering perhaps ?

    It bothers me that there's hardly any mention of fume issues during the talk about these great machines.
  • I just assembled one myself.... here's a video:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FpAw5SCR7gQ

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