Makerbot Replicator 5th Generation – Not Ready for Primetime!

Makerbot Replicator 5th GenerationA little over a month or so ago, my library bought our first 3D printer, a Makerbot – the newest, 5th Generation Makerbot.

Our goal is to put it out for public use this fall (one of the options in our planned makerspace/digital media lab).

But guess what? We can’t get the thing to work consistently. It’s easy to use, the controls are great, the filament is easy to load, and their new Smart Extruder print head is easy to work with.

Well – it’s easy to work with until there’s a jam or clog. Guess what? The Smart Extruder isn’t so smart when it comes to clogs, because you can’t really take the thing apart to unclog it.

We’ve had to send the extruder back to Makerbot and get a replacement … about 4-5 times now. In a month and a half.

Not good, Makerbot! I’m guessing you guys can do better than that!

Fingers crossed this gets figured out, or we’ll have to send the whole thing back and find another option.

So – who has 3D printers out for public use? Which ones? I’d love to know – especially if I have to find another one!

  • Tyera Eulberg

    Lulzbot upgraded our public-use 3D printer to the TAZ 4 several weeks ago, and it has run flawlessly so far. We had some bed-leveling problems with previous models, requiring calibration nearly every print, but I just finished a 60-part, 2-week printing project for a patron with no leveling needed!
    We’re very happy with it. Only attempting ABS plastic, though.
    -Loveland Public Library, Loveland, Colorado

  • http://www.newtonplks.org Nathan Carr

    Last I heard, Salina Public Library has one but I do now know which model or how well it is working out for them.

  • Dale Askey

    We’ve also had severe issues with our Makerbot fifth gen, albeit of a different nature than yours. We’re already on our second device; the first one failed completely even after it had been repaired once in their shop. I get the sense that in the rush to make a slickly packaged printer, they cut some corners on the engineering and QC. The replacement printer we have is just OK in terms of print quality, and is very loud and makes very unpleasant noises when moving the build plate during setup. We believe that this is due to a misalignment of its carrier rods; again, that’s just poor QC.

    We just ordered our second printer. The Makerbot is only semi-public, and this second printer will be fully accessible to all. Needless to say, after the issues with Makerbot, we opted to diversify our fleet and ordered an Ultimaker 2. Hopefully we will have better results.

  • http://www.davidleeking.com davidleeking

    I’ve seen the Ultimaker at Union Station’s Science City makerspace – they liked them. I’ll be interested to see if those work better for you guys!

  • http://www.davidleeking.com davidleeking

    Good to know, and thanks for sharing! How is the ABS plastic smell? I’ve heard it has a definite odor.

  • http://www.davidleeking.com davidleeking

    Good to know – I’ll have to ask them about theirs.

  • Tyera Eulberg

    Honestly, I can’t perceive any odor from the melting ABS. (I just went to sniff the running printer ;) )

  • Tyler

    My library had similar issues with the Makerbot 5th generation. We sent the smart extruder back and got another one, but the jamming issues happened again. We returned the 5th gen and replaced it the Replicator 2. The print quality is about the same and we have had no performance issues so far. Our tech department is much happier with the Replicator 2.

  • http://www.davidleeking.com davidleeking

    We might do that as well – we will see!

  • Andrew B

    The local high school that hosts our makerspace bought an Up! Plus 2 for their CAD class and it has worked great so far. Perfect auto be measuring (level and nozzle height) and every object has come out looking great so far.

  • frustrated user

    Bought five makerbot 5th generation machines they are already clogged beyond repair they have only been running for about 10-15 hrs. There is only one working at the moment.
    Tips: never unload filament. cut it off and load it through

  • http://www.davidleeking.com davidleeking

    Good to know – thanks for sharing!

    David Lee King | davidleeking.com
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    ** Buy my book, Face2Face: Using Facebook, Twitter, & Other Social Media Tools to Create Great Customer Connections **

  • Nick

    I know what you mean! I had a similar experience with that 3D printer and wrote an in-depth review with a similar headline about it ( http://nicklievendag.com/makerbot-replicator-5th-generation-review/ ).

    I’ve been exploring alternatives ( http://nicklievendag.com/3d-printers-for-creative-professionals/ ) and will be reviewing some of these 3D printers very soon!

  • Eldemie Villordon

    I agree with you! I got similar reviews about 3D printers here: http://3dprinterblog.net/category/3d-printers/ This might help you in identifying which ones work best.

  • Marc
  • Marc

    I agree also. Of all the people I emailed who are users of the makerbot (who used to subscribe to makerbots google group around half have reported having issues and signed the following campaign. http://www.change.org/p/makerbot-industries-product-recall-makerbot-5th-generation-3d-printer Id welcome others with issues to do the same.

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  • wiseguy

    I’ve had a problem with a clicking sound from the extruder. It’s intermittent and random. Appears at any time and sometimes goes away, other times it’s quite persistent. Whenever it clicks the the print quality goes down – as if it struggles to push the filament out. They’ve sent me a new smart extruder and z table – but to no avail. Since nothing worked I tried using a non Makerbot filament ( I know they say it voids the warranty – but hey worth a shot!) and the problem went away – no clicking sounds. Have printed 50hrs + and no clicking sound. Tried the Makerbot filament again… hello clicking!! Have tried upping the temp – made no difference. Seems like their filament is just as crap as their machine! Have tried using both extruders, the original and the new one and both have no trouble with the new filament. reverting back to makerbot crap and clicking comes back.

  • wiseguy

    one last thing… Makebot may have my money now for this machine, but I won’t ever buy another machine or filament from them ever again. To release a product with so many faults is just not on. short term they may make some money but long term people won’t be coming back to buy again! I for one will put my money else where.

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  • Luther

    We had the same issues and have figured out how to prevent it 100% of the time. We have printed dozens of prints over the last few months without a single jam. We could barely get one to print before.

    The issue is that the filament gets overheated just above the “Smart” extruder. Once the filament is soft and the feed wheels try to feed, the filament collapses, creating a bulb above the extruder that will not feed through. When you try to remove the filament, the thin area that was overheated breaks and the bulb is left inside. After that, the only fix is to disassemble the extruder. Do this a couple of times and the tabs will break off and you have to buy another one because your warranty is voided.

    Moisture exacerbates the issue. The moisture boils out of the filament and causes it to “thin out” even more than usual as it’s heated. That’s why fresh bags of filament are not as bad to work with as ones that have been open for a while. But no worries, with these tips you don’t need perfectly dry filament for the printer to run well.

    The trick is to not allow the filament to overheat. Lowering the print temp is not a solution. When you do that, the feed wheels have to push harder to get the material through the nozzle, so whatever you gain in terms of reduced heating of the filament, you lose in terms of pressure exerted on the filament to feed it.

    The solution is to NEVER leave the filament in the extruder while it is hot unless the printer is printing. As long as it’s printing, the filament is always moving and doesn’t have time to overheat above the extruder.

    There are a few things we do to accomplish this. It seems a little complex but once you “get” it, it just becomes part of the process. This is a GREAT little printer if you get it working correctly. We went from being super disappointed about buying it to being really glad we did. Just read and understand the tips below and hopefully you will have the same experience:

    1) When loading the filament, let the extruder heat up to about 190C and MANUALLY push the filament through the extruder with the little spring tab on the side of the extruder compressed. AS SOON as the material starts feeding, CANCEL the Load Filament routine and let the extruder cool down. Start your print IMMEDIATELY and it will print fine.

    2) NEVER preheat the nozzle with the filament in it or leave the filament in a heated nozzle.

    3) When the print is finished, immediately remove the filament if you can. If you are not available to do that, see 4) below. But if you can, compress the spring tab and remove the filament as soon as the printing is finished.

    4) If the extruder ever cools down with the filament still loaded after a print, IT MUST BE REMOVED and reloaded before printing again. However, DO NOT let the software Unload Filament routine run to completion. To remove it, go to “Unload Filament”. When the nozzle gets to ~190C, gently pull on the filament until it releases. It it doesn’t release let the extruder continue to heat until it does. Once the filament is removed, break off the end that’s melted before attempting to reload it.

    The problem with letting the MB load filament is that it can over heat the filament. By the time you print your job, the filament can get too soft and cause a jam.

    The problem with letting the MB unload the filament is that it heats up so much to remove it that it softens the filament. Remember, if the filament was in the extruder once the print finished, it just sat there and cooked until the extruder cooled down. if it had any moisture in it, it stretched and thinned out as the moisture boiled out of it. This makes it mechanically weak (ie easy to collapse when the feed wheels try to feed it) and easily overheated (which also makes it easily collapsed) due to reduced mass.

    Follow these tips and you should have much better success with your 5th Gen Makerbot. Please share your results with others!

  • daduck

    I purchased the 5th Generation about a month ago. It’s been quite a learning curve as I’ve been following MakerBot pretty much since the beginning but never gave it a go since the output quality was not quite there at the time.

    This is what I have to say, now that I’ve printed maybe 10-15 parts. I struggled with it because it is quite complex. What materials can be used (you can’t use ABS. That’s why it is not selectable in the MakerBot Desktop app). I got one extruder stuck because I fed some ABS through it. It WAS coming out nicely, but after the extruder cooled and heated up again, that’s when things went south. I still have to open it up and unclog it, but I’m using my spare at the moment.

    This seems to be a no-brainer but anyone can make this mistake. I put the glass platform on top of the shelf, which made leveling not difficult, but IMPOSSIBLE. I ran by first 3-4 parts this way. Surprisingly, they came out OK as far as can be expected, but not great. Hey, they were the first off the press… until I figured you have to SNAP it into the shelf. DUH.

    I find the shelf to be very flexible, much more than should be. Then again, I have a bunch of industrial CNC machines in my shop and it doesn’t get any more rigid than that as far as mechanical things with moving parts go. So, it’s not quite a fare assessment but still, I think it flexes WAY too much. Having that said, it is still very difficult to level the MakerBot (5th Generation) because of this flex. There are two knobs at the bottom that aid in leveling, but the shelf will flex as you’re adjusting the knobs. Although the leveling procedure goes through twice to adjust and verify, you still move the shelf and may turn the knob too much, but the program will “take it” anyway. I find that my upper-left corner doesn’t get a good layer of PLA on the first pass. I’m lucky if the second layer fills in the voids… even after leveling. This happens every time.

    Again with leveling, I find the platform gets misaligned very easily and I need to re-level after about 2-3 prints jobs. This is horrible but I find this reduces my jamming (clicking). But after spending about $3,000 for this setup, I’ll spend the extra 5-10 minutes to re-level and get decent prints, rather than getting frustrated and restarting a print. Most of my prints at low-quality still takes around 1-2 hours. I’ll spend the extra 10 minutes to avoid starting these over.

    I also had to install my own rubber feet at the bottom. For $3,000, they could have at least installed a few $0.50 rubber feet for you.

    I did open up one of my extruders and sure enough, I broke 50% of the tabs. It turned out the reason why my filament was not feeding is because a thin piece of material was “floating” inside the extruder and prevented the new filament from feeding into the heating element. Just in case it helps others, I think all I had to do was flip the extruder upside-down and it may have fallen out of the heating element. Anyway, since I already christined myself on opening up the extruder (and breaking it, still functional though), and since I run a machine shop, I may reengineer the extruder body to aluminum with screws instead of plastic body with fragile tabs. I suppose I could even 3D print additional extruder bodies but they wouldn’t be any better or worse than how they come.

    Anyway, I’m not completely happy with the MakerBot 5th Generation, but I’m also not completely unhappy with it either. I’ve been able to quickly (within a few hours) prototype parts what would have costed me a lot more doing them in metals.