Jan 4, 2016 | By Kira

Makerbot has today introduced the new and improved Smart Extruder+ for its Fifth Generation Replicator 3D printers that has been specifically redesigned and meticulously tested alongside MakerBot parent company Stratasys in order to guarantee better performance over a longer period of time. How much better, and for how much longer? According to MakerBot, they jointly conducted over 160,000 cumulative hours of testing on the new Smart Extruder+ to demonstrate its reliability over 700 hours using 1.44 miles of PLA, proving to MakerBot customers that they can once again 3D print with confidence.

Of course, for many MakerBot Replicator customers, 160,000+ hours of testing is the least MakerBot could do after the frustrating and highly publicized failure of its previous Smart Extruder model. One of the most critical components of a 3D printer, the extruder (or ‘hot end’) is tasked with pulling the plastic filament from the roll, heating it, and layering it onto the print. MakerBot’s original ‘Smart Extruder’ concept, launched alongside the 5th Gen Replicator, was promoted as a novel way to re-load filament and explore new 3D printing materials and processes without having to purchase a whole new 3D printer. However, it turned out to be so poorly designed and prone to clogging, users reported their 3D printers becoming completely inoperable, forcing some to replace their extruders several times within the initial six-month warranty period.

To make things worse, the Smart Extruder became the subject of a class-action law suit against MakerBot and its parent company Stratasys, which alleged that both companies had known about the Smart Extruder’s defaults, yet continued to sell them anyway. The lawsuit added insult to injury for the 3D printing startup, which faced two rounds of layoffs and a major ‘restructuring’ in 2015 in an attempt to recover from a series of increasingly reckless and irresponsible management decisions. Stratasys also reported $938 million in losses during its third quarter, due largely to a MakerBot write-down.

Could the new Smart Extruder+ finally redeem MakerBot for the past year’s indiscretions? According to the test results and initial reviews from customers, it seems to be, at the very least, an extremely promising start.

Taking advantage of Stratasys’ 25 years of industry experience, MakerBot collaborated closely with its parent company to refine the Smart Extruder from every possible angle. The Smart Extruder + is designed to easily ‘swap’ in and out of various Fifth Generation Replicator 3D printer models, including the desktop Replicator, the Replicator Mini, and the larger Replicator Z18. Key improved features include an enhanced thermal management system; extended PTFE tube to feed the filament into the nozzle; faster print start up; refined build plate leveling and calibration; and finally, enhanced smart sensors that allow it to communicate with users via PC or mobile devices, informing them of print statuses and real-time filament levels. All of this means better connectivity, less clogging and jamming, fewer failed prints and filament waste, and overall better 3D print quality than previously possible with the MakerBot Replicator.

Of course, it’s one thing to boast all of these new improvements, and another to truly put them to the test. Thanks to two independent teams, one from MakerBot and one from Stratasys, to help ensure un-biased verification, the Smart Extruder+ was put through over 160,000 cumulative hours (or 18 years) of 3D print time, resulting in a total of 5,800 3D prints. Throughout these tests, the Smart Extruder+ proved to perform ‘consistently and reliably’ for over 700 hours on a Replicator desktop model, using 1.44 miles of PLA filament. What’s more, over 90 percent of test units were still successfully 3D printing after 1,200 hours of 3D print time.

While MakerBot does point out that the rate of wear on extruders can vary greatly based on a variety of factors, 700-1,200+ hours is quite impressive, and to back up its quality-control claims, MakerBot is doubling the Smart Extruder+ warranty to six months, with no limit on the amount of MakerBot PLA used. The extended warranty seems to be a pretty bold move, but one that also proves just how confident MakerBot is in this new product.

“The advances we made with the MakerBot Smart Extruder+ are a big step forward and set a new benchmark in 3D printing,” said Jonathan Jaglom, CEO of MakerBot. “The extruder is the most critical part of a 3D printer and it is a part that wears out after a certain period of time and needs to be replaced. We engineered and tested the Smart Extruder+ to enhance its reliability, provide better performance and extend its lifetime. And we stand behind it by doubling our warranty to six months. Because it is swappable, the Smart Extruder+ can also reduce downtime when it’s time to replace it.”

Early customer reviews of the Smart Extruder+ have been quite positive. David Gewitz over at ZDNet reviewed the Smart Extruder+ and commented that after a “ridiculously easy” installation process, he was able to successfully 3D print several parts. “It’s a clear improvement over the previous plastic-layering component,” he said.

In line with MakerBot’s commitment to promoting 3D printing education, the Smart Extruder+ is also being used in classrooms. “The reliability and ease of use is huge for us; it provides more students access to our MakerBot Desktop 3D printer,” said Nicholas Provenzano, a teacher at Grosse Point Public Schools in Michigan, who has been using the MakerBot Smart Extruder+ for several weeks. "Our students print all day in our library and I can't always be there to assist them. The MakerBot 3D Ecosystem, and especially the Smart Extruder+, makes it easy for our students to turn their ideas into physical objects. It lets them focus on the design process, which is most beneficial for their education."

The Smart Extruder+ is available for pre-order as of today, with an MSRP of $199 and shipping expected to begin January 18th, 2016. Current MakerBot Fifth Generation 3D printer customers, or new customers who purchase a Fifth Gen 3D printer, will qualify for $100 discount. After a year of mismanagement, poor decisions, and financial losses, both MakerBot and Stratasys are in need of a saving grace. For their customer’s sake above all, let’s just hope this Smart Extruder+ is it.

 

 

Posted in 3D Printer Accessories

 

 

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Happier Customer wrote at 8/9/2016 4:34:30 PM:

I have 2 Minis that went through 8 extruders the first year. Since using the Extruder+, two extruders have clogged but it takes 2 minutes to remove the clog vs 15-20 minutes for the original smart extruder. Too bad Makerbot doesn't allow users to open the extruder without voiding the warranty when it's so easy to remove clogs now.

wayne andrews wrote at 3/30/2016 4:19:50 PM:

A bit too little & far to late ... you should be giving them for free to replace the crap you sold us with the machine's when you first robbed us of our money

joe wrote at 1/6/2016 12:41:34 AM:

will not buy makerbot again. very costly and crap for printers

Jamie Laing wrote at 1/5/2016 11:07:55 PM:

I have four 3D printers and I've printed for thousands of hours. I have a Replicator 2, and Replicator 2X, both of which had atrocious extruders as compared to the other machines. I printed new extruder heads for the 2 and 2X, and they work great now, but my main point is... after thousands of hours of printing, I have yet to have a print head wear out. What is happening that is causing print heads to wear out? Are we supposed to believe that PLA wears down the stainless steel portions of the printer? Not something that should take six months, it should be years. Makerbot broke my heart, I will never buy from them again. Simply put, they lied to me repeatedly, from every level of the organization. I recommend folks look at the Flashforge Creator Pro... great machine that actually does what the Replicator 2X was supposed to do.. print in both PLA and ABS. The Makergear M2 is also a solid beast.

Sean D wrote at 1/5/2016 7:15:18 PM:

Sorry Makerbot, but you had your chance and you blew it good. No one is ever going to trust your brand again, why even bother wasting money on this crappy extruder? There are more than 100 manufacturers of consumer 3D printers, have your pick, but stay away from Makerbot.

Disgruntled customer wrote at 1/5/2016 2:32:20 AM:

Nope, i will never trust makerbot ever again, theyve made these same promises of quality before, then delived a steaming box of shit. I will never buy makerbot again, and i make sure that all my friends that consult with me on 3d printing matters know to steer clear of makerbot

dbclunie wrote at 1/4/2016 8:48:51 PM:

love how the comments are disabled on the video... I 'm sorry but this is a little to late. Heck my 2x just bit the dust last night (the extruder wiring finally game up the ghost being that its non flex rated wiring in a flex job. Getting some new wiring and fixing it up soon to get it back to "semi functional" which it always was... never confidently reliable like the other 3d printers I have...

Bill wrote at 1/4/2016 7:01:50 PM:

So, on top of all the issues I've had with my current machine, they want me to pay an additional $100 to get an extruder that supposedly works? No thanks.



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