The MakerBot fifth-generation Replicator printers have become famous in the industry, and not in a good way. With extensive efforts in testing, the Smart Extruder+ has been announced and is certainly something users are currently looking forward to. Tom and Tracy Hazzard share their experience with this infamous printer and its original Smart Extruder. They talk about the tests they’ve conducted on their own along with the outcomes. Tom also gives some tips on how to save money when purchasing your extruders from MakerBot and discuss an amazing process they have in tracking their extruder usage.
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Smart Extruder+ Announcement
This is the Ask Us Anything segment. Our ask us came to us in an email from MakerBot. MakerBot asked us if we wanted to buy a new Smart Extruder.
I’m dying to get into that subject but before we do, I want to make a little announcement to our readers and also give you some kudos, Tracy. Tracy is officially an Inc. Magazine columnist in their innovation and design section.
My column is called By Design.
You published your first article.
There probably will be three articles. My first article was, Million-Dollar Companies Don’t Buy $5 Logos.
This is not a 3D printing column, but any of you that are interested in innovation and design, Inc. has a whole new innovation and design section of their website. They’ve come out and sought some new columnist, some writers and you are one of them that they chose.
I’m excited about this. This is like a childhood dream come true to be a non-self-published writer. To be a writer that’s published by somebody else, that’s exciting.
That’s a paid writer. This is a paid gig, which is a little different. The podcast, we’ve been doing for free. You’re getting paid to do that.
The more people who go to it, the more money I will be able to make and keep supporting it. I’m excited about it. The focus is going to be about raising the level of understanding how much design can do for small businesses, entrepreneurs and inventors and the importance of the design process. The importance of how design can save you money and any nitty-gritty type of stuff. I want it to be helpful to people. Also, there will be helpful tips for creatives out there. If you’re one of them, shoot me some emails if you have some topics you’re interested in.
Tracy, if people are interested to go and find your column, how can they do that? Do you have some links on our website yet? Where can they go?
There are some links on our website. You could also go to Inc.com and type in Tracy Hazzard into the box. I have an author page and all my articles will be there.
All the social media, you’re still promoting through @HazzDesign. Pardon the shameless self-promotion at the beginning of this episode. It’s some news I want to let you all know about if you have an interest in those topics. Moving on to 3D printing.
Moving on to the geekiest topic we could have. However, coming off to CES, this is important and Smart Extruders are a big issue every time we’re running our printer all the time and it’s a maintenance consideration.
There are a lot of printers out there that you buy the printer and the extruder. The only thing you’re ever going to replace with the extruder is maybe the small brass nozzle when it wears out. MakerBot printers for those of you that don’t know or don’t have one, it’s a significant part of the printer. It has to do with not just squirting out the plastic but it pulls in the filament. It has the motors that do that and it senses all sorts of things and it retracts.
It’s pricey. It’s list price for $200. We can find it on Amazon and stuff like that for about $150 most times. How many do you think we’ve been through?
I bet we’ve been through eight in maybe two years. This I know is a big issue and we’ve had some feedback from followers.
It’s been a big criticism of MakerBot.
We’ve had some feedback from followers over Facebook chat and Twitter who are in disbelief that we have had such good success with our MakerBot Fifth Generation. There has been a lot of press and blogs written about the problems that existed with the Smart Extruder. We’ve had some problems but nothing that I would call major problems. We certainly have had great success printing with our MakerBot Fifth Generation printer. It was a real problem. We’ve heard from a few. It was legit. MakerBot in the past had made some, what I would call incremental improvements to the Smart Extruder. They were putting a Band-Aid on a bad situation.
They’re doing the best that they could probably, trying to fix a problem on the fly. This announcement of the new Smart Extruder Plus, which the good news for any of you that have MakerBot Fifth Generation printers that use a Smart Extruder, this extruder is made for you. You can replace it on your printer. I called MakerBot. I got on the phone with them soon as I got this email and I said, “Tell me about this. What’s going on?” They directed me to a Yahoo Finance article where they talk about what’s going on here. This is sight unseen. I don’t have one yet. We ordered two of them. I believe that this is not just an incremental improvement, because what they’ve done is they’ve leaned on their resources from their parent company, Stratasys.
It says that they spent 160,000 cumulative hours of testing and that’s a total of 5,800 prints completed. I’d like to see what those prints look like though. They did it with two teams, one at MakerBot and one at Stratasys so that they could independently verify each other. The results are they had 1.44 miles of MakerBot PLA filament used up, which sounds geeky and unnecessary. The important part is that they did over 700 hours consistently and reliably on these extruders. That’s almost double. We do about 400.
We’ve gotten 400 to 450 out of ours.
It’s one and a half times of what we do, which is an improvement. If we did eight in two years, that’s going to go a lot farther for us and lower our maintenance costs.
It will cut our consumable costs in half, which is great. That 1.44 miles of PLA used, that doesn’t mean anything to me. Maybe it means something to some of you engineers out there. I’m a fairly technical guy as well as the design.
We track a lot of stuff.
We have databases. We’re good about tracking them. I don’t have a good concept of how many miles of filament I use on a regular basis or how many miles of filament gets used in a print. I think in terms of hours. To me, those 700 hours is a lot more meaningful. In fact, that article goes on to say that over 90% of the test units were still printing successfully at 1,200 hours of use.
That would be awesome. That would have even been more.
That could be three times the amount of use, which is great. I’ve got a small graveyard of Smart Extruders here. We use them for 400 to 450 hours.
You mark them, which is interesting. Why do you do that?
I got to the point where I found that some Smart Extruders worked better than others. It was because some of them were earlier models and some of them had these incremental improvements and I was getting better results.
We couldn’t always tell though, because we bought them over on Amazon. It wasn’t always clear what manufacturer date was on them. There weren’t any markings. It was hard for us to tell which came when in the process.
It’s true. I had called MakerBot and asked them some of those questions prior to that experience and said, “Is there any way I can tell the data manufacturer with the serial numbers?” They didn’t have much information to provide to me.
Hopefully, they mark these new ones with the data manufacturer. That would be smart of them and showing a much more mature company.
Here’s what I do and what I would recommend any of you out there that are MakerBot Fifth Generation users too. I took matters into my own hands. When I buy a new Smart Extruder, I read on the box the date that I get it, when I opened it and started using it and I give each one a name. Instead of numbering it, I give it an A, B or a C extruder. I wrote that on the box along with the date when I started using it. I also put a little sticker on the Smart Extruder with that same A, B, C, whatever so I know which extruder corresponded which box. That way, I will be able to tell when we started using it.
I also write on the box, after I experience the Smart Extruder, how well does this extruder work? We print some of the same parts over and over, either testing printers or when we’re testing other printers, not the MakerBot. We have some production parts that we do over and over. I can tell if an extruder is performing well or not by the quality of the part that comes up because I run that part a lot. I do keep some data and then eventually when an extruder goes bad, I write on the box, “Use only if you’re desperate,” if another one fails and you have to finish a print or something.
What would be cool is once we get the new MakerBot Smart Extruder Plus, let’s do a post and let another ask us about it and do the results of what you got. Analyze how long each one of those extruders lasted on average because you’ve got the dates on there. You could go in and say, “We did on average this many hours. We had one that lasted this small and the one that did this many,” and go through that and that will be our comp for the new.
We can do a follow up episode because I’m also going to dissect it. I talked to MakerBot and we ordered two of them right away. I always want to have a backup. I have one that I’m using and I want at least one backup, and then eventually I may buy 1 or 2 more backups as they get older because I don’t want to have to wait. Sometimes they don’t have these things available to ship for a week or two. I can’t be down. I always have a backup. We bought two. If you’re MakerBot Fifth Generation owner, here’s a good tip. On their website, if you go and order it online, they allow you to enter in your MakerBot printer serial number and they give you 50% off of it. Its list price is $199 but you’re able to buy the Smart Extruder Plus for $99, but it only lets you buy one.
Here’s the tip. I saw that online and I’m like, “Forget this. I’m not going to do that. I want to buy at least two of these. Why shouldn’t they give me the discount on both of them?” I call them up and when I talked to the salespeople, I said, “I’m going to buy two of these. Why don’t you give me a discount on both of them? I need these things. I’ve got to have a backup.” It didn’t take much convincing to get them to honor that discounted price for two Smart Extruders. Whether you’re buying 2, 3 or 4, whatever you want to buy, call them up on the phone. Otherwise, you only get a discount on the first one and you pay full price on any one after that. MakerBot may not be happy with me doing this. That’s the reality of it. It doesn’t hurt to ask and I asked them, they agreed. It didn’t take much. We ordered ours. When we get it, we’re going to use it and experience it.
We’ll take some photos and some video. We’ll post all that up and do follow up.
We’ll have a follow-up episode and a blog post. This is good news. I feel reasonably confident that this Smart Extruder will be significantly improved because clearly what they’ve said here and I don’t believe that they’re lying about it. They seem sincere here in putting out all the data.
It’s not just that but they’ve also in a way put their money where their mouth is because they are offering six months. It’s a double warranty for the Smart Extruder Plus. Normally it’s three months warranty on the extruder itself and now it’s six months. They are committed to it.
That six-month warranty is meaningful because I would go through a Smart Extruder’s entire life in about 3 or 4 months. In reality, if they have a six-month warranty, that extruder better last over 1,000 hours in order for me to get past six months. If it fails within those six months, then I’m going to get them to send me a new one and not have to pay for another extruder. You talked about them putting their money where their mouth is, they’re definitely trying to make something that lasts longer and I’m excited about it as a MakerBot user. We’re going to put it to the test. Stay tuned to a future episode for some more info and details on that.
We’ll be having the CES recap, which we’ll talk about even more tech and other companies and other things like that, but we’ve got to have a little time to digest everything and give you our take on it. If you have a question and you want to reach out to us and ask us that question, you can find us anywhere on social media, @HazzDesign. You can reach us on the website 3DStartPoint.com and Info@3DStartPoint.com.
Also, WTFFFPodcast.com, if you want to go straight to the podcast page, you can do that. Thanks for following, everybody.
- Million-Dollar Companies Don’t Buy $5 Logos – Tracy Hazzard’s Inc. article
- Inc.com – Tracy Hazzard’s Inc.com author page
- @HazzDesign on Facebook
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