MakerBot is one of the driving forces in bringing 3D printing to a mainstream audience, and the Replicator takes yet another big step in that direction. For starters, there's the fact that, unlike past products from the company, the units ship assembled, taking the difficult and time consuming construction process out of the equation -- at less than $2,000, it's also a good deal cheaper than a fair amount of the competition. Pettis also insists that the printing process itself is rather simple. There's an SD slot on the front -- pop in a card and choose a project from the simple LCD.
MakerBot Replicator hands-onSee all photos
There are pegs for the spools of plastic on the rear of the device. Opting for the $1,999 version lets you do dual extrusion -- using two different spools for two-color objects. When the printing starts, the plastic spools (made of ABS, the same stuff that Lego is made from) feed through tubes, getting melted down, hot glue gun-style. The layering of the plastic creates a ribbed effect on the objects, though Pettis points out that some people sand down their projects after they're finished.
The process is a bit time consuming -- Pettis was printing out a small plastic cupcake that didn't finish during our 20-minute-long interview. Apparently it takes closer to 45 minutes to finish something like that. But this model has a key competent its predecessors lacked: the ability to print large objects. You can print things up to the size of a loaf of bread using the Replicator.
We're working with MakerBot to get a unit that we can spend a bit more time with -- and believe us, we can't wait. In the meantime, watch Pettis give a guided tour of the device after the break.