Are the Makerbot 5th generation's initial issues resolved

  • I am considering buying a 3D printer for work (scientific research). On paper, the Makerbot 5th generation seems to be the best option, because the price is right for my budget, and also because I'm generally pretty busy, so I want something that's as close to "plug and play" as reasonably possible. This will be my first 3D printer and I have no prior experience with the technology.

    However, any search for "Makerbot" brings up a raft of negative reviews from around the time of the 5th generation's first release, which mostly focus on issues with the smart extruder constantly failing and needing to be replaced under warranty. Many of these reviews point out that this may be an initial "teething" issue which might be fixed in later versions of the model, but now, one year later, I'm unable to find any information about whether this was indeed the case.

    So: are the initial issues with the Makerbot 5th generation's smart extruder generally considered resolved, or is it an underlying flaw of the model that won't be fixed until the next generation?

    I imagine that people might want to suggest alternative models in the same price range. That would be welcome, but I have an extra constraint, which is that I can only buy models that are available in Japan without a long delivery time - this probably limits my options quite a bit.

    After a bit more research, it seems the Zortrax m200 might be a better fit for me - it's in the same price range (actually a fair bit cheaper) and also very "plug and play", but the reviews say it is very reliable and it prints in many more materials, with a heated print bed. So probably I'll go with that one.

    As someone with a makerbot, Ultimaker, and 3-4 other printers.. Don't. Get the Ultimaker. It is worth importing.

  • Makerbot claims the problems are fixed. I have heard from a number of resellers that the problems are fixed. Unfortunately, both of those are somewhat biased sources. It's surprisingly hard to get good info on the subject -- very few credible people are talking about recent experiences with the product line.

    Issue #1: The main surviving user forum (!forum/makerbot-users) has had the torrent of people reporting 5th gen issues more or less dry up. There ARE still people posting issues, but at a fairly low level that is not far outside what you would expect for an average hobbyist printer. What we DON'T know is whether the flood of complaints has slowed because they're working better, or because very few people are actually buying them any more.

    Issue #2: The power-users and community leaders that typically evaluate and review 3d printers are all avoiding the 5th gen line like the plague. Makerbot burned up a lot of community good-will by going closed source with the Replicator 2, and lost more good-will through a series of misunderstandings over patent applications and the Thingiverse terms of service (Takerbot scandals), and put the nail in the coffin by knowingly releasing a non-functional 5th gen product line. Very few credible people are willing to give them a chance at this point, so there is a severe shortage of unbiased reviews.

    Issue #3: Makerbot has a proven history of buying off journalists and reviewers to get positive 5th gen press. Some verifiable examples:

    • Hundreds of fake 5-star Amazon reviews from paid review accounts. A relevant analysis: (Not verified, but related: a widely-believed rumor states that the German Amazon site actually wiped all of Makerbot's 5th Gen reviews because of blatant tampering:

    • The CES awards initially given to the 5th Gen line were given before Makerbot had functional firmware. None of the 5th Gens at the CES launch were functional. All demo prints shown were made on Replicator 2s. How could a non-functional product win awards? Not hard to figure that one out.

    • Historical positive press in the 3DP journalism media (3ders, Make Magazine, etc) has been directly proportional to the volume of ad-buys from Makerbot or the parent company Stratasys.

    I could keep going, but you get the idea.

    So it's hard to evaluate the reality of the situation. But even IF the Smart Extruder issues are truly all fixed (jams, leveling issues, thermocouple connection, filament encoder failures, etc), there are still meaningful problems with the product line.

    • The print quality is not impressive. The motion mechanics, which have not been appreciably changed to my knowledge, are not great. The Smart Extruder is basically a giant pendulum wobbling off the side of a non-optimal gantry selection of an H-bot architecture. Makerbot has addressed the floppy construction via firmware tweaks to significantly slow down the machine to give marginally-acceptable print quality. According to most reports I have seen, a Replicator 5th Gen will print significantly slower than a Replicator 2, for example. Expect in the neighborhood of perhaps 30-40% longer print times than comparable printers.

    • The price tag is roughly double or even triple the current market price for the size and print quality output of the machine. There are so many great printers on the market now for significantly less money that it's kind of nuts to drop the cash on a Makerbot.

    • It is marketed as a PLA-only machine. That's fine if you're printing art and trinkets, but it's not a great option for mechanical parts. While you CAN print other materials, this is not technically supported.

    • The support plan structure has quite frankly become abusive. Makerbot used to have really helpful phone tech support, but the crushingly massive volume of 5th gen troubleshooting requests forced them into a paid tech support model. Around the same time, Makerbot shut down their user community forum and deleted links to external technical resources off their website. So unless you know the right places to go, support is scarce. For official tech support you must buy "Makercare" or pay for each help ticket. This is completely out of line with industry norms for a hobbyist/consumer 3d printer. They essentially took their biggest liability -- unreliable printers -- and tried to twist it into a profit center. I personally think this is a significant reason to avoid the company entirely.

    Is it possible to get good results from a Replicator 5th Gen? Sure. But it's a poor value for the cost, from a company that has spent the last few years systematically driving away its former loyal user base. I would recommend staying away until there's some significant change in the product line at minimum.

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Content dated before 7/24/2021 11:53 AM