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MakerBot: The Next Generation

The Replicator 2 has arrived.

MakerBot CEO Bre Pettis, the first real ‘rock star’ of 3D printing, described his company’s latest product to Wired’s Chris Anderson as “Darth Vader driving Knight Rider’s KITT car while being airlifted by a Nighthawk spy plane.”

MakerBot announced the launch of the Replicator 2 in September.  This was coupled with the grand opening of a MakerBot store in Manhattan.

Even before you use the Replicator 2, it is evident that this machine is a giant leap ahead of the original Replicator.  The earlier 3D printer was made from laser-cut plywood, with all its innards visible.  A hobbyist’s workshop, not a professional’s tool.  But the Replicator 2 is different.  Unlike the DIY-inspired aesthetic of the original Replicator, the Replicator 2 has a rigid, smooth black metal and PVC case.

The Replicator 2 costs $2,199, which is $200 more than the most advanced Replicator.  But there’s a reason for the higher price.  The Replicator 2 has 100 micron printing resolution, which means that it can print objects far more detailed than the original MakerBot printer ever could.  The first Replicator also had a heated frame, which warped the plywood, so MakerBot has fixed that problem with the Replicator 2’s metal casing and a powdered steel frame.  Its build volume is 410 cubic inches, enabling the creation of even larger objects. 

However, MakerBot will be releasing another advanced printer, the Replicator 2X, in January 2013.  This printer will be able to print in two colors, while the Replicator 2 can only print in one.  The 2X will also have a heated build plate, so it will have the ability to print in both PLA and ABS plastics.  It will cost $2,799 

Both these printers will not be used in conjunction with the old ReplicatorG software, which was developed for the original Replicator, as, that software was not user-friendly.  Instead, the Replicator 2 and 2X will use the new MakerWare 3D printing software.  Not only will this software, which is still in beta, be more intuitive, but it will also be much faster as well. 

Mr. Pettis says these new printers are aimed primarily at professionals such as product designers, engineers, prototypers, and architects.  However, MakerBot’s overarching vision is to develop more hobbyist and home-centric 3D printers.  These near-future printers will build upon the foundations the Replicator 2 and 2X’s features are laying down now.  

But the Replicator 2 and 2X aren’t the only foundations MakerBot is laying down.  The MakerBot store in New York is certainly going to be (in fact, already is) one of the foundations for the 3D printing revolution. 

The store, which sells MakerBot printers; spools of plastic feedstock, and an assortment of 3D printed objects, has a purpose.  Mr. Pettis envisions a place where people walking by will be able to witness the magic of 3D printing through the window displays. 

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