I was really looking forward to seeing the new Makerbot Digitizer in person at Maker Faire in New York. During the three days I spent at the venue, I was able to stop by the Makerbot booth quite a few times to watch it in operation and discuss the unit both with the Makerbot employees and potential users. Downloading the digitizer documentation from the company website made it possible to ask intelligent questions and to verify key points.
Overall, I left with a fairly positive impression of the digitizer. It works as advertised, is dead simple to use, and produces robust STL files that can be sliced and printed immediately. The unit looks very professional and would look right at home in a engineering lab or design office.
So, what were the downsides? Unfortunately there were a few that will probably keep me from placing an order, at least for the time being.
First is the price. At over USD$1,500, before shipping/handling, it would be hard to justify amortizing the cost over the number of times I could put it to good use for client projects. I'm sure that there are potential customers with a different business model that can use the Makerbot Digitizer, I'm just not in that position right now.
Second is the lack of detail resolution - for me this is a non-starter, and I think it will impact a lot of potential users as well. A good (or bad) example is the puppy model shown above that Makerbot used at the event to show off the digitizer. As you can see from the photo, the puppy has a lot of fine detail, including the hairs on its back. Unfortunately the digitizer can't resolve that level of detail. The STL mesh created by the Makerbot Digitizer application produces smooth surfaces instead.
Third, and this is good news/bad news, the digitizer scan envelope will handle parts that can fit into a cylinder 203 mm in diameter and 203 mm high. While that sounds great, the digitizer can not handle parts that are under 50 mm in diameter or under 50 mm tall. This rules out quite a few of the typical parts I work with regularly. My first thought was to place my parts on a small cylinder, digitize everything, then remove the cylinder by processing the resulting STL data. But the lack of digitizer resolution appears to make that approach impractical.
All things considered, the new Makerbot Digitizer will be attractive to creative artists, some designers, and perhaps consultants, as long as they don't require fine resolution and can afford the price tag.
Scott Vader and his son Zachary showed a early prototype model of their Liquid Metal Jet Printer.
Although the printer was non-functional at Maker Faire, Vader, with over 30 years experience in manufacturing and engineering speaks with a lot of confidence and is sure he will be able to bring the product to market in the near future.
This supersized dragon model was printed on one of the early Makerbot printers. In order to accomplish the task, it was broken down into over 100 separate pieces that were then glued together.
Nicholas Seward at ConceptForge gave us a demonstration of "WALLY", an innovative new 3D RepRap design at Maker Faire.
WALLY uses a SCARA/pantograph approach that totally eliminates linear rails, appears to be more compact, and is able to print parts for a next generation copy/clone that is 20% larger than itself. According to Seward the process can be repeated with each generation being as much as 20% larger than it's predecessor.
The part print quality was a bit rough, but Seward explained that the prototype WALLY on display had only been running for 3 days. He expects the print quality to match other 3D printer designs on the market after he has a few weeks for fine-tuning.
WALLY features a 3/8" water jet cut basalt bed with a laser cut registration grid; Anubis hotend equipped with a FEP Bowden tube (similar to Tantillus) that minimizes the print head mass resulting in smoother prints; linear motion drive utilizing 100lb test braided fishing line (another design approach similar to Tantillus); and is wall mountable.
The print envelope is 200 mm in diameter by 150 mm tall. The printer is designed to use 1.75mm PLA filament, though it could probably be modified for use with other filament sizes or types.
Seward estimates that WALLY will cost USD$450 for a "print your own" version and plans to offer a full kit priced around USD$600.
It's surprising how rapidly the capability and capacity of affordable 3D printers has increased.
There were several exhibitors at Maker Faire in NYC last week showing off printers with print envelopes large enough to print really big objects. Of course the print times can be extremely long, and there is also the issue of warping with large parts. Still, the results were very impressive and encouraging.
It's SXSW time again already, so it should come as no surprise that companies involved in the interactive space are rolling out press releases and product announcements designed to leverage the excitement of the moment.
The most exciting, and interesting announcement that we've seen so far came from Makerbot on Friday. The company's CEO, and one of the founders, Bre Pettis stepped into the limelight to let the world know that they are developing a new 3-D scanner. Actual details are kind of sparse at the moment, because the company is still in the prototyping phase. No doubt will be extensive testing, learning, and redesign over the next few months as the product develops. There is currently no indication of the price or release timing, though the company did state that they will start accepting orders this fall.
The scanner consists of a turntable on which you mount objects you wish to scan. Lasers and cameras translate that object into a digital files. Bre said the scanner will be ideal for archiving, prototyping, replicating, and digitizing prototypes, models, parts, artifacts, artwork, jewelry, and other objects.
Assuming that the pricing is reasonable, and by that I mean in line with the pricing for the company's 3-D printers, then the new scanner will be a huge success. There are free solutions out there that usually involve taking a series of photos, then having the photos analysed to re-create the dimensions for the 3-D object. However the free software available online is either difficult to use, or requires significant attention to detail.
The new scanner, on the other hand seems to be much more straightforward and has some nice features that we help make it into the final product design. For example, the turntable, which we assume will be able to rotate the subject smoothly and repeatably. it appears that the company would like to expand its offerings to include products targeted at all the key steps in the design and manufacturing/printing process.
Related links: Makerbot Announces New Scanner