MakerBot Finally Upgrades The SmartExtruder!

By on January 4th, 2016 in Hardware

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MakerBot announced the SmartExtruder+, a new version of their advanced extruder used on their fifth generation equipment. 

The new extruder is a much welcomed upgrade, as the original version appeared to have some challenges. We heard many stories of the original SmartExtruder failing prematurely from a variety of readers, but it seems that the SmartExtruder+ solves these issues. 

The SmartExtruder was first introduced two years ago by then-CEO Bre Pettis, who explained the new extruder was designed to simplify operations of the then-new Replicator Fifth Gen 3D printer. It included a smart sensor that automatically detected jams or out-of-filament situations and attaches via a simple magnetic system for rapid swapping if required. The SmartExtruder was also a key element in the improved bed-leveling procedure in the Replicator Fifth Gen. 

Intelligent operations was – and is – a great idea for an extruder, as these are among the most commonly encountered problems for those operating a desktop 3D printer. 

The problem was reliability. Replicator Fifth Gen owners were reportedly replacing them at a frequency far faster than most expected. While MakerBot provided tips to improve reliability and replacement units, it seemed that some tweaks to the hardware were required. 

Now we have them. The SmartExtruder+ appears to address known issues by improving several features: 

The Smart Extruder+ features improved key components to ensure longer-lasting reliability, such as an enhanced thermal management system and an extended PTFE tube to feed the filament into the nozzle. Additional improvements include faster print start up and refined build plate leveling, the process of calibrating a 3D printer. The smart sensors within the extruder have been enhanced for better performance and to streamline the printing process from start to completion – which can save time and money. 

But will it really work? This is the key question that we and many others want to know. It turns out that during the lengthy time it took MakerBot to prepare this upgrade, they performed very extensive testing, perhaps the most extensive testing of any desktop 3D printer equipment we’ve yet heard of:

MakerBot collaborated closely with its parent company Stratasys on the development and testing of the Smart Extruder+, benefitting from Stratasys’ 25 years of industry experience. MakerBot’s product testing initiative spanned over 160,000 cumulative hours – or 18 years – of print time. A total of 5,800 prints were completed by two groups – one at MakerBot and one at Stratasys – to help ensure independent verification of the results. In these tests, the Smart Extruder+ performed consistently and reliably for over 700 hours on a MakerBot Replicator Desktop 3D Printer, which equals 1.44 miles of MakerBot PLA Filament. In fact, over 90 percent of test units were still printing successfully at 1,200+ hours of print time.

That’s pretty incredible, as it is our understanding that many desktop 3D printers rarely hit 1,000 hours in the lifetime of the product. In other words, we suspect that for many Replicator owners, they may require only one or two while they own and operate the machine. 

Now, there will be some users who run their machine daily; they’ll no doubt require several SmartExtruder+ replacements during the machine’s lifetime, but you must expect this to happen on heavily used equipment. 

Makerbot also seems quite confident in their upgrade, as they’ve extended the warranty on the unit from three months to six months. From this it would seem they expect you could print continuously for six months straight and not see a failure!

The new SmartExtruder+ is not quite available, although you can pre-order it for USD$199. They expect to be shipping later this month, though, so there’s not a long wait. 

The new extruder does fit in older units with the original SmartExtruder. If you happen to already own a Replicator Fifth Gen, they’re offering them at a discount of only USD$99. If you own a Replicator Fifth Gen, you’d better get on this!

For purchases of new Fifth Gen’s, it seems the company is offering the same discount for a SmartExtruder+ at time of purchase – in other words, their existing stock of Replicator Fifth Gen’s seems to include the old extruder, at least for now. 

We’re very interested to see how well the new SmartExtruder+ works – if you get your hands on one, please let us know how it works! 

Via MakerBot

By Kerry Stevenson

Kerry Stevenson, aka "General Fabb" has written over 8,000 stories on 3D printing at Fabbaloo since he launched the venture in 2007, with an intention to promote and grow the incredible technology of 3D printing across the world. So far, it seems to be working!