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It has been a while since I wrote the in-depth MakerBot Replicator 5th Generation Review which ended up in returning that 3D printer after having the – now infamous – Smart Extruder replaced 5 times within a few months. Because of the continuous comments, tweets and e-mails of other (ex-)Rep5 owners that shared my conclusion I couldn’t resist to write another short post when I saw this promotion in MakerBot’s Newsletter:
Worn Smart Extruder? When I bought my Replicator 5th Gen back in March the details about replacement Smart Extruders weren’t clear but after the many issues with clogging I did start to worry about what would happen if that continued when the warranty period would be over. Apparently this is clear now: A new one will cost you $175 (it’s not listed on the European MakerBot website yet, so I don’t know the Euro price).
That offer made me think… Let’s get the facts about straight: Firstly, 3D printers and their extruders are mechanical parts, so they naturally need maintenance after a longer period of use. Secondly, filament clogs happen- simple as that: it’s a chemical-mechanical process and very small errors can result in a clog. Thirdly, MakerBot designed the Smart Extruder for their – already expensive – 5th Generation line of 3D printers to be non-user-maintainable, but easily replaceable – at a cost of 6% of the printer’s price.
But let’s take a closer look at this extruder: the parts that will actually get “worn” the first are the transport gears and nozzle, which aren’t very expensive parts. Looking at the list of replacement parts of the Leapfrog Creatr I reviewed recently I can a pair of spare nozzles plus a pair of spare gears for €29. Sure, Stratasys (the industrial 3D printer giant that acquired MakerBot earlier this year) has invested R&D for this extruder and they chose to put some fancy electronics in the detachable part instead of the fixed assembly, but $175? And they offer $50 in return so they can refurbish the extruder’s actual worn parts and sell it again for $175. And as far as I’ve read, recent users are still complaining about clogging Smart Extruders, so a spare one
I’m a big fan of companies that try to make complex technology user friendly, but I do believe that consumers must be able to either fix their stuff them selves or choose someone who can do it for them. It’s becoming more clear every day what the impact of acquisition of a company that once was pro-open really means for the consumer. Re-watching the energizing Announcement Video of the previous-generation MakerBot Replciator 2 by ex-MakerBot CEO Bre Pettis (he stepped down as CEO last week), which was published only 2 years ago, is a good reminder of how fast the 3D printing industry is moving, developing, commercializing. And now that big names like 2D printer giant HP and even rotary-tool-maker Dremel are stepping into the 3D printing business, I’m curious to see how consumers and professionals will benefit! More about that subject soon!
If you’re in the market for your first 3D printer, be sure to check out my list of MakerBot Replicator 5th Gen alternatives. I will be reviewing some of those printers here very soon! Follow me on Twitter of Subscribe to my Newsletter if you wan’t to receive updates on this.