Desktop 3D printing leader, MakerBot has launched its latest machine which aims to bridge the gap between desktop and industrial 3D printing.
The Method, which TCT got a first look at during a preview at MakerBot HQ in Brooklyn last week, is designed to match precision, reliability, and dimensional accuracy with an accessible price of 6,499 USD. It does so by controlling every aspect of the 3D print environment, resulting in repeatable and consistent parts with ± 0.2 mm dimensional accuracy and vertical layer uniformity.
The system, which MakerBot has been working on for two years and believes opens up a new category in “Performance 3D Printing”, marks a step change for the company and certainly feels more industrial. Its sturdy Ultra-Rigid metal frame doesn’t budge and houses a Circulating Heated Chamber which regulates the temperature to provide cooling at a controlled rate, while new Dual Performance Extruders enable print speeds up to two times faster than current desktop systems. It also features dry-sealed material bays to keep out any moisture, a spring steel build plate which allows parts to be popped off the plate, and built in sensors and automation features.
The dual extrusion system combines model printing with water-soluble PVA material to provide an impressive surface finish with geometric freedom without the need to manually remove breakaway supports.
The machine is aimed at professionals to enable testing and validation of accurate prototypes early on and faster product design cycles. In a press release, MakerBot says the Method leverages expertise from Stratasys, of which MakerBot is a subsidiary, and the accessibility of its own machines. This feels evident in its design which could pass as a desktop version of Stratasys’ popular F123 Series and the installation of a touch screen interface in place of the manual control knob from the Replicator+.
“In an age of disruption, businesses are under pressure to innovate and bring products to market faster. Current desktop 3D printers derive their DNA from hobbyist 3D printers and are insufficient for many applications in the professional segment,” said Nadav Goshen, MakerBot CEO. “We believe that Method is the next step in helping organisations adopt 3D printing at a larger scale. Method provides a breakthrough in 3D printing that enables industrial designers and mechanical engineers to innovate faster and become more agile. It is built for professionals who need immediate access to a 3D printer that can deliver industrial performance to accelerate their design cycles. Method is developed to bring industrial technologies into an accessible platform, breaking the price-performance barrier and redefining rapid prototyping in the process.”
The Method will initially be available with PETG material but MakerBot says there are more materials to follow across two categories; Precision Materials including MakerBot Tough, MakerBot PLA, and MakerBot PVA; and Specialty Materials for users looking for materials with advanced properties. Specialty Materials will provide basic print performance and can require additional workflow steps to print successfully.
On the software side, MakerBot Print Software is compatible with 25 of the most popular CAD programs to allow designers and engineers to design within a platform they are familiar with. The software offers default print modes (Balanced, Draft and MinFill), as well as the option to choose your own custom settings, but the overall aim is to get you from design to print as fast as possible by helping users to add soluble supports and nest multiple parts quickly. Teams can also collaborate by saving 3D files as projects and sharing them via the native Cloud Management platform and there is a built-in onboard camera which allows users to monitor their print progress remotely.
The Method has undergone over 220,000 hours of testing and is now ready to be pre-ordered for shipping in early 2019.
Editor’s first impressions
Upon leaving the elevator on the 21st floor of the Metro Tech Center, Brooklyn, I was eager to get a first look at what MakerBot had been hinting at for some time, first fuelled by a couple of clues back at RAPID + TCT in May and a few glossy teaser images which have appeared over the last few weeks. Metal? Large-format? Industrial? All possibilities had crossed my mind.
So when the “performance”-focussed Method was unveiled, perched atop a desk against the backdrop of the New York skyline, it didn’t feel like such a surprise but rather a logical next step for the company, which for the last few years has realigned itself across education and professional verticals under the leadership of Goshen.
The machine looks impressive, in-keeping with MakerBot black casing and a touch of the Stratasys F123. It’s a strong piece of hardware (the team joked they planned to have an engineer stand on top of the machine to demonstrate) and a range of new features such as dual extruders for printing soluble supports along with moisture sensors to ensure filament quality, will appeal to professional users looking to speed up their time to market with higher quality prints. I had the chance to handle some sample parts including solid and functional components which showed impressive precision and smoothness of layers. We also saw how parts can be nested in MakerBot Print so that product designers can print multiple parts, leveraging the soluble support material which can be washed away with water, to create full prototypes in a single print run.
The decision for MakerBot to go for the gap between desktop and industrial is interesting. Speaking with Goshen, the company spotted a need to “develop something completely new” and in the last two years, has invested heavily in order to bring as many industrial features as possible into the desktop format it is known for without having to compromise on quality.
Goshen said: “We said, on the contrary, I don’t want to compromise. I want to invest and I want to find out how we can get more and more industrial features into a price point, which I think is the best we can get today.”
As the industry’s consumer focus has dropped off and the desktop landscape has evolved to keep apace with an increasingly industrial market, we have seen a number of use cases where desktop systems are being applied in industrial settings, MakerBot being one of them. It will be interesting to see how these new capabilities may open that up even more when users get their hands on the machine next year and if current generation users decide to upgrade. It’s an attractive price point and the simplicity of setup and utilisation means it will be much easier for users to get started. For businesses who may have been previously priced out by larger industrial systems or needed something more from the desktop, the Method may be just the thing.