We meet up with MakerBot Industries at this year's World Maker Faire to finally see the MakerBot Digitizer 3D scanner in person and learn about how it works. Plus the answer to a nagging question: What happens when you scan an object, 3D print it, and repeat the process over and over again?
Following on to my previous post on the new Makerbot Digitizer, the "gnome" character shown above is a perfect example of the type of parts where the digitizer will perform well, if not excel.
Just like Goldilocks experience with the three bears, the gnome is not too large and not too small - it's just right. It has no large cavities, no overhangs, is primarily smooth surfaces without drastic or abrupt surface changes, and it lacks the type of small details that would cause problems for the digitizer.
It's also a matte surface with no reflections that are difficult for the unit's lasers. Of course you can scan items with shiny surfaces, you just have to make them appear matte by applying some powder or other material to mask the reflection. This is a typical challenge with all digitizers of this type, not a design fault. It's just something you need to be aware of and plan for in order to get the best possible scans from your digitizer.
One other thing that was slightly annoying in the Makerbot Digitizer user manual and at their booth at Maker Faire was the over promotion of "Thingiverse". I'm a big supporter of Thingiverse, upload my designs to it often, and promote it to other 3D printer users when it's appropriate. It's a very useful resource and I'm very happy that the company supports it.
But with Makerbot, Thingiverse seems to have evolved into almost a religious mantra that pops up everytime one of the employees opens their mouth to speak. The same thing is true of the digitizer user manual. It keeps on telling you to upload your designs to Thingiverse, over and over again.
They do provide a check box in the software to set it up so that the designs you upload can be kept private. In my opinion, the setting to keep designs private should be the default, and you should always have the option not to upload. A lot of us work on design projects for customers, or have our own development projects that we do not want to share or even let the world know what we're working on until we're ready to disclose it. It seems all too easy with the Makerbot Digitizer setup and supporting software to overlook a checkbox and suddenly find that your project has been disclosed to the world, and possibly your competitors. Perhaps I'm overly concerned, especially since I'm basing my observations on what I was told by the Makerbot staff at the event and what I have interpreted from the user manual.
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.