It’s immediately obvious upon unpacking the MakerBot Replicator that substantial engineering resources went into this fifth-generation machine’s consumer-focused hardware and software. It sports a large, bright, color LCD interface, mobile or PC app-controlled LAN / wi-fi printing, an internal print-watching camera and a magnetically attached, sensor-packed Smart Extruder. The onboard LCD interface was by far the most complex of all systems we tested. While printing, you can scroll through system status to see print progress, slicer settings used, a rendering of the finished piece, and even snap photos.
Integrated 3DP Ecosystem
The MakerBot Desktop software is easy to use and certainly the most comprehensive of all packages tested. In addition to allowing the user to prepare and print files, it has extensive integration with Thingiverse and MakerBot Digital Store. After login, designs the user has “liked” on Thingiverse or models purchased from the Digital Store are automatically populated in the software, allowing (almost) one-click printability.
Surface Finish Needs Work
The new Replicator’s print quality was at the higher end, especially on the Overhangs, Tolerance, and Backlash. However, it was near the bottom of the pack in our Fine Features testing. Testers also commented that the Surface Finish was a step down from the Replicator 2.
Within the first few minutes of using the new Replicator we noticed that it’s not a quiet machine. As testers came over to watch it in action, the first thing mentioned was always the noise; the Z-axis movements sounded particularly pained.
Razors versus Blades
Use of non-OEM filament on the 5th generation Replicator is aggressively discouraged through the inclusion of an internally mounted, unusually sized filament spool and will void the 6-month machine warranty. We voided ours with Ultimachine, and it printed without issue. While we didn’t experience problems with the Smart Extruder, it’s worth noting that it’s not user-serviceable. When jams occur after the 90-day extruder warranty period expires, a $175 replacement must be purchased.
Out of all the machines tested, the fifth- generation Replicator is the closest to a networked appliance. We just wish there was more for the maker in this ‘bot.