MakerBot unveils Replicator 2, 2X and launches retail store, we go eyes-on

MakerBot unveils Replicator 2, 2X and launches retail store

The Replicator may have just been pushed off this writer's Christmas list. (Note to self: send updated letter to Santa.) But, this isn't a loss for MakerBot Industries, because it's being replaced by the Replicator 2, the newest model of 3D printer from the company. This is a big boy version of its previous devices that were aimed more at tinkerers than serious designers, and that's reflected in the $2,199 price. The build plate is significantly bigger, with the ability to spit out creations that measure 11.2 x 6.1 x 6.0 inches (410 cubic inches). That's a full 37 percent larger than the original Replicator, but the machine itself is the same exact size. The frame is no longer assembled from laser-etched wood, instead there's a powder-coated steel frame with PVC plastic sides to help shield the various moving parts and lend an air of professionalism to the affair. The extruder is designed specifically for use with MakerBot PLA, a new plastic material based on corn, that Bre Pettis claims wont expand when exposed to the heat -- which means it wont contract when it cools, leading to smoother printed objects and less cracking. The new printer has a resolution of 100 microns, by comparison, the original Replicator had a layer resolution of 270 microns. Now each layer of plastic is as thin as a sheet of copy paper, resulting in smooth printed prototypes.

In a departure from previous models, the Replicator 2 is shipped fully assembled. You need only lift it out of the box and plug it in to get started. And one of our biggest complaints about the setup process, leveling the build plate, has been addressed. The new model now has a simplified three-point leveling system, what should eliminate some of the opportunity for error in the four-point system of its predecessor. The Replicator 2 even comes in an experimental dual-extrusion model for those that like life on the cutting edge, called the Replicator 2X, that retails for $2,799.

To run all this there's a new software tool, called MakerWare that greatly simplifies the act of printing objects. You can even drag and drop multiple models into a virtual build platform, scale them and tweak them (either independently or simultaneously) before sending them to the Replicator 2. Perhaps, most interesting of todays announcements is the MakerBot Store -- an actual physical shop -- in NOLA NOHO. The company believes this will help expose people to 3D printing who might otherwise be confused by the concept. You can order the Replicator 2 now direct from MakerBot. But, be warned, there's a four to six week lead time on deliveries.

Edgar Alvarez contributed to this report.