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

  • 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.

  • 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!

  • davidleeking

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

  • 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.

  • 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

  • davidleeking

    Good to know – thanks for sharing!

    David Lee King |
    Twitter | Facebook | Google Plus

    ** 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 ( ).

    I’ve been exploring alternatives ( ) 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: 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. 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.

  • daduck

    Here’s an update to my previous post.

    I designed and built a new 4-point alignment platform, made from 3/8″ aluminum plate. It started off at around 5lb of metal. After I skeletonized it, it ended up being about 2.5lb, just a little heavier than the stock plastic platform. I also made new arms from steel tubing. Now my setup is quite rigid. Now, I can understand that a system like this needs a little flex, or bounce to accommodate for heavy drops here and there. My opinion is, if the alignment is set up correctly, bounce should be minimal. Besides, doesn’t the heater block have a spring in it for a little bounce toleration?

    Long story short, just with a 4-point alignment system installed, I am getting back-to-back prints with no “drag” or clicking. I haven’t had a filament jam since I installed the new platform. The most important layer is the first layer. It needs to go down nice and solid and even. Obviously, no one has made an aftermarket Smart Extruder so the only thing that has changed for me is the 4-point alignment platform. This made A WORLD of difference for me.

    What it buys:
    – No more Alignment Assistant. I use a feeler gauge at the four corners and center to make sure they are all even. It takes all of about 2 minutes, as opposed to about 10 minutes through the alignment assistant (and yet it is still WAY off).
    – Set it and forget it. I’ve done about 6 prints, back-to-back today without mishap.
    – Less wasted machine-time, manual-time, and material cost.
    – Less stress

    ALIGNMENT is key, especially with this printer. My extruder issues have been reduced about 90% just because I found a solution for the alignment issue, so don’t hate too much on the extruder. Most of the issues is with alignment.

    The glass in the corner cracked, due to stress, when the extruder tip came down for homing. I fixed it by installing a support screw under the center of the glass, where the extruder comes down. All alignment problems FIXED!

    A solution like this would be expensive for MakerBot to provide to their customers, but at least the the product could come with a “plastic” 4-point system instead of a 2-point “set it and hope for the best” platform. I know lots of 3D printer owners mod their machines. Why? We pay $3000+ for these machines and we complain about them. There’s a problem there.

    I did have two stuck extruders since my last post and I had to open them both up because of it. One extruder had to be cleared from the top and bottom of the final alignment tube before it receives heat. There was no other way to clear that except to open it up and manually clear it out.

    The other extruder was leaking and PLA got everywhere. So when the extruder cooled down, everything became one solid piece, a dangerous situation for homing and calibration sequences.

    Well, now, except for my extruder problems, I am fairly happy with my machine. I think most of you can start blaming the extruders a little less and pay more attention to the platform alignment issue.


  • davidleeking

    Interesting. We’ve never had alignment issues. With ours, it’s always PLA getting stuck up inside the extruder, and clogging the system up. We just received a new extruder head from Makerbot – we’ll see if this one works better.

    Glad yours seems to be working better now!

  • daduck

    I’m still printing without failures, so it would seem, just changing one variable (platform alignment) has dramatically reduced my failure rate. That is not to say the Smart Extruder is perfect – No. I’m just saying that the stock print platform is HORRIBLE, but most people are directing 90% of their hate on the extruder.

    Obviously I’ve taken mine apart (externally), and this is what I’ve found. The arms are steel indeed, but they are thin gauge sheet steel, bent to the right form. They should withstand the stresses of dynamic movement of the machine, but that is once everything is set (via Alignment Assistant, or whatever alignment methods you choose, let’s just leave it at the two tuning knobs at the bottom). These sheet metal brackets WILL bend with enough stress. On top of that is a skeletonized sheet steel plate that basically ties the two arms together, plus hold the 2-way pivot mechanism. This too will bend, even more so than the arms. This already is 2 points of warping. The 2-way pivot is made from two pieces of plastic and a one-way pin. This assembly has a very loose fit. This is 4-points of warping. Next comes the platform holder, the part that holds the glass frame. This is completely plastic and is held in place by friction, provided by 4 retaining clips on threaded studs. They could have used nuts instead of these clips, but I suppose MakerBot didn’t want their customers to dig that far into their product. Now, this plate is one-piece, no moving parts, but the fact that it is all plastic, is bendable and twistable. I believe this is what makes MakerBot’s Alignment Assistant work (or not work). In my opinion, this is a cheesy method of alignment – twisting structural parts into alignment (?). The glass holding plate, although made completely from plastic seems to be the best made part in the entire platform assembly. It doesn’t really have to do anything but hold its form well enough and yet be pliable enough to release the glass when needed. So, I’ve lost track of how many points of warping there is in this platform, but it’s a lot.

    My platform is quite simple. It is made from three pieces (minus screws): two main arms made from steel tubing, an aluminum print platform which is rigidly mounted to the two arms. That’s it. The glass is aligned by 5-points (4 corners and a center), although the center point is used mainly for a starting alignment height as well as homing-support. I think MakerBot could have done this in plastic and reduce a lot of customer frustration. After $3,000 spent, a week or two of frustration, 2-3 days of design, 2-3 days of fabrication and NOW I have a working machine. I can’t get an accurate measurement since the nozzle is spring loaded, but my guess is I’m getting about 0.002″ (0.05mm) variance on all corners, conservatively, which should still fine for high quality prints at 0.1mm per layer. I haven’t done any high-quality prints yet since I haven’t had any need at this point, but I’ll test it, but surely, it will be better than the stock setup.

    Also, I’ve noticed that when the machine lifts, the left side goes up first. Your mileage may vary, depending on manufacturer’s tolerances. I believe this is due to the floating leadscrew and the two guide rails/bearings being very loose. I may address this at a later time, but for now, since the machine predictably works in the UP direction, it’s not a real big issue. This would also require opening up the back, which I’m not ready to do at this time.

    I had noticed that after going through Alignment Assistant, the back-most left side always has a problem, namely dragging which in turn jams the filament because the alignment is OFF. I did measure it with feeler gauges and the front-right corner would be off by as much as about 0.03″ (~ 0.76mm). This is with VERY slow turning of the adjustment knobs. That might not sound like much, but if you think about a layer at low quality is 0.3mm, the “LOW” part of the platform is ahead by about 2 layers. How do you lay down your first layer solidly when one corner is ahead by 2 layers? What about at high-quality printing? This would be about 7-8 layers too early. I would check your alignment. A side-note, I mostly print raftless, so each layer must be perfect. I think the first layer of a raft is pretty thick so you may not notice.

    I’ve found (before my upgrade) that when the filament gets stuck, I would pull it out and the end would be a “ball”, seemingly larger than 1.75mm so it won’t go into the last alignment track. When I figured that part out, I would just unload (sometimes pulling it out after it has cooled down), and break off the end, all the way up to where it’s chewed by the gear. This wastes about 3-4 inches of filament. Anyone work out that cost? It may not be much, but if this happens often, that cost (say $0.02) adds up to dollars in no time. Now I have also REDUCED that cost after my platform upgrade.

    If these extruders are truly SMART, they should be able to clear themselves. I’ve found that shoving a wire, similar diameter to a filament) up from the nozzle-side (with the nozzle off), helps to clear the track. However, anything that you have just cleared will be inside the extruder. Nothing bad SHOULD happen until there are too many and/or you flip the extruder and the bits mingle with all the mechanical parts. This is all theoretical. I’ve cleared 2-3 clogs this way, but have opened up my extruders to clean them quiet a few times, so there hasn’t been much or any build up of loose PLA.

    Slow Firmware:
    Now, I don’t know what routines the machine is performing during homing, but it takes an awful long time. I design and build things for a living for when I’ve taken the extruder apart, there isn’t isn’t any switch on the nozzle, so… when you are homing, “finding location”, or performing Alignment Assistant, how does the system know when you’ve hit “a position”? It’s logical if you raise the platform, the nozzle moves up (backed by spring tension), and closes a switch to let the system know. Ok, no switch, so they must be measuring the current draw on the stepper motor. When the current draw immediately raises, which means the coil is working harder to maintain its position. That signals the system that it has reached “A POSITION”. Why does it take about 15 seconds to do this? I’ve designed these kinds of systems before and it only takes… maybe a millisecond to take this reading, if even that.

    This is all theoretical because I did not design this system, nor can I prove or disprove, but this seems to be the way this system works… without switches or sensors. So… if there is a higher current draw at 0.1mm above 0.0mm (nozzle exactly on the platform or above), what is the current difference between 0.2mm or 0.7mm above 0.0mm? Would the system know the difference? Or would the system say, “it’s NOT zero, so it MUST be in the correct position”. Without sensors, I believe it would be impossible to perfectly align the platform, let alone taking to long to take a reading. The firmware also lowers the platform about 1.0cm or so, moves to another location, then “blindly” raises the platform. I understand the logic. You don’t want to crash the platform. You’ll send up knocking the extruder off the magnetic base or worse yet, shatter the glass. I get it. Why not add a couple sensors to the nozzle and call the first sensor, “first contact”, and the second sensor “in position”. This would cut down on a lot of wasted time we’ll never get back.

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  • daduck

    So my mod has been a million bucks, with about 5-6 prints per day. But I’m not writing about that. I’m going to comment on the extruder, like most people are complaining about.

    Since my mileage has been great, I’m starting to see lots of leakage. My backup extruder leaked and seized the springy component and it took over an hour to clean it up. Now, on my primary extruder, I’m starting to see the same kind of leak at the nozzle.

    Last night I had my first incident with the extruder since before the upgrade. It started dragging my first layer around, so basically, it wasn’t stuck to the tape. I didn’t pay much attention to it, since it was already midnight and I had to leave the office (yeah I’m a bit of a workaholic, 12am is not late for me), so I shut everything down and figured I’d start the print this morning.

    Long story short, over some periods of time, the nozzle will back itself out and start leaking, dripping, then creating a plasticy mess. The only way to clear this is to preheat, start a job to get it up to 215c, then wipe it clean.

    I’ve tried lightly securing the nozzle. I’ve tried cranking on it. It still comes loose. I’m sure this is due to heat expansion of the thermal block. I don’t think you want to crank on it TOO hard, since the block is made out of aluminum and you’ll strip the threads. Perhaps a new nozzle with a pinning or locking mechanism is called for,

  • daduck

    I also printed, or attempted to print the largest THING Friday night. The part is almost the full length of the print platform and about 3″ wide. I did get a filament jam, but only because of material cooling. This is not really the fault of the Makerbot, but it should be addressed at some point. The corners will lift on any part that is around 3″ x 3″. My part is about 7″ x 3″ and the corners curled up and lifted about 5/8″ off the platform.

    Granted, we all know about heated beds, and I am new to 3D printers so this is my next thing to upgrade. However, how does a company design a machine that is capable of printing objects about 7″ x 5″ (maybe?) x 5″ (I guess), and the materials have a tendency to curl. If you could get ABS to work in a 5th Generation, it would REQUIRE a heated bed for any kind of adhesion (from what I’ve read). Makerbot doesn’t even offer a heated bed on their website.

    I don’t know how large people are printing with their equipment but I’m starting to build larger parts and I’m running into different issues now – part lifting on larger parts. This doesn’t seem to be too big of an issue with small parts.