Hobbyist 3D printer manufacturer MakerBot announced a brand new extruder this morning: the Stepstruder MK7. MakerBot has a habit of gradually enhancing their product line, and as the extruder is a key part of any 3D printer, this is a big deal. And just in time for the NYC MakerFaire, too.
The Stepstruder MK7 builds on its predecessor, the MK6, which introduced a stepper motor and significantly improved the quality of output. But what improvements does the MK7 offer? Here's what we see:
- Designed ground-up for using 1.75mm filament
- Much smaller footprint, half the weight of the MK6
- More custom-made components
- Easier to assemble due to fewer components
- Said to provide higher quality prints
- Faster startup
- More reliable, using "precision-milled aluminum and high strength injection-molded plastic components"
- No PTFE involved!
- Nozzle size of 0.4mm
We're very pleased to see quality and reliability improvements - but is there more to it than that? Yes! The teeny size of this extruder should permit installation of two of them within a Thing-O-Matic build chamber. That means you could print with two different filaments, opening up the possibility of multicolor prints, but more importantly the ability to print support material.
Support material is major step forward, as it would permit successful printing of a much wider variety of object geometries. In other words, you can print more things!
We're expecting to see more experimentation on the dual-extrusion approach in the next few months, as MakerBot will have to perfect not only the hardware, but also the software for driving the extrusion of support material and also the types of plastic support material. We suspect MakerBot will focus on a dissolvable support material, because it makes it easy to remove, particularly if the support material is captured inside a shape (imagine picking support bits from the inside of a geodesic sphere, for example).
The Stepstruder MK7 is priced at US$199 with a one-week lead time (as of this writing) at the MakerBot Store.
Hm, now what do we do with all this 3mm filament lying around?