Makerbot is one of the market leaders—if not the market leader in 3D printing. So we were dying to see what they had in store for CES 2014 (the company's fifth CES, by the way). We expected some innovative improvements on their current lineup of 3D printer technology and we were far from disappointed. Instead of re-inventing how to print the wheel, like Formlabs and Mcor, Makerbot is sticking with what works and making it accessible to everyone.
On the hardware side, MakerBot is introducing 3 versions of their latest in the Replicator line: the entry-level Replicator Mini, the prosumer Replicator, and the industrial sized Replicator Z18.
The MakerBot Mini is designed to be the “point-and-shoot” of the 3D printer world. The words “One-touch printing” and “easy to use” were bandied about liberally during this part of press conference. But don’t let the focus on simplification fool you, this machine still packs the same basic components as its bigger brothers, including the heart of the 3D printer: the extruder.
MakerBot put their latest Smart Extruder into the Mini to ensure that even those dipping their toes into the 3D printing pool will not be disappointed by the quality of their prints. Unlike its not-so-smart counterparts, the Smart Extruder can tell when you're running out of plastic filament, and can be easily removed and replaced if necessary. The Mini will be released in Spring of 2014, with a competitive price tag at $1375.
The next step up is the MakerBot Replicator, which has all the same features as its little brother, plus a bigger build chamber (8 x 10 x 6 inches) and a few other additions. Most notably, a 3.5-inch full color LCD display, and a stylish dial that allows you to operate it without a computer. Simply plug in your USB stick and print any object stored inside.
This model also features an assisted leveling plate, taking the guesswork out of the trickiest part of print preparation. Surprisingly, the Replicator was made available for purchase during the press conference, so you can snag this one up right now for $2,899.
The biggest and baddest of the trio is the Replicator Z18, which is intended for industrial use. It features the largest build chamber available at 12x12x18 inches. For reference, one could easily print a regulation soccer ball running out of space.
MakerBot included all features and components present in the Replicator, but also added heating elements to the fully enclosed chamber. This makes sure that the larger models maintain proper dimensionality, as differences in temperature can warp objects of that size. This behemoth will launch at the same time as its diminutive brother, the Replicator Mini, but at an industrial sized price of $6,499.
Besides the impressive hardware introduced today, MakerBot is also paying attention to the software side of 3D printing. Taking a page out of Apple’s playbook, the 3D printing company is establishing a whole ecosystem to power their hardware, starting with the MakerBot Desktop App. The app includes the popular 3D modeling software MakerWare, a model cataloguing component to keep things tidy in the cloud, and easy access to Thingiverse, a large database of user-created 3D models.
MakerBot is also releasing its mobile app to easily control your printer on the go. Besides the standard controls, the app also allows users to browse models in the cloud or Thingiverse and send them directly to the Replicator, allowing for true impulse printing.
Realizing that 3D modeling is difficult and will likely be the stumbling block for most consumers interested in 3D printing, MakerBot also released a user-friendly, yet powerful 3D modeling suite, dubbed Printshop. With features like Type Maker and Bracelet Maker, beginners will be able to hit the ground running and make 3 dimensional text objects and custom wearable bracelets minutes after starting up the software.
MakerBot is trying hard to let nothing come between you and your creativity. Soon you'll have no excuse not to own a Replicator (or one of the other 3D printers on display at CES 2014), and start churning out large and small plastic objects that once existed only in your mind.