Today I got the new MKVII extruder for our Makerbot. The new extruder uses much thinner plastic (1.75mm vs. 3mm) so it should print with higher resolution (and as a side benefit it’s faster too). Like all things Makerbot you have to build your new parts.
First I had to remove the old extruder and build the new one. Fortunately the new extruder is much simpler than the old one (evident in the picture to the left). Once assembled installing it in the Makerbot is pretty simple – only 2 bolts to hold it into place. The new platform is built to hold 2 (and 3 down the road) extruders so you can print multiple colors at once (they aren’t quite there on the software just yet). Next up was to assemble the Safety Cutoff board (and by assemble I mean solder all the components to it the old fashioned way!).
Once that’s assembled and installed (by installed I mean zip-tied to the side of the unit) you wire everything to the motherboard that’s in the belly of the beast. Once you have it all wired up you then have to update the firmware on 2 of the boards in the bottom (which means removing the panel to get o them). Once that’s all done you’re ready to calibrate.
Calibration can be hugely time consuming so for now I’ve just done the quick calibration to tell the bot where the top of the Z axis is (where the nozzle I just installed is). A few minutes after that and I fired up my first print – a small chess piece that I’d been printing on the old extruder so I could do an A-B comparison.
And so here they are – can you tell which one is from the new extruder? I bet you said the one on the right, didn’t you? Well nope, that’s actually from the old, lower resolution one! Remember I haven’t done all the calibration yet (I will) but I’ll admit I was a little disappointed by the results. On the plus side it’s now easily twice as fast as it used to be (these pieces took about 25 minutes before and about 12 now). So progress none the less.
While 3D printing clearly has a long way to go before becoming truly mainstream the Makerbot is a great first step to that goal. It’s a blast to print with and everyone loves watching it create things. I’ve even made something useful, Jason needed a coat hook so rather than buy one I printed him one!