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.
3D printing makes it incredibly easy to crank out new parts on a whim.
For example, I'm about to make the trek to California for RoboGames and want to use a Contour ROAM2 HD action camera to capture some of the action - especially ComBots with the massive steel robots trying to inflict mortal damage on each other. I have the camera and have access to all areas of the venue. What I don't have is three hands. I always carry my Canon 5D Mark II for the still images and some video, and I have a light Nikon bridge camera for competition videos. The challenge was to find some way to operate the Contour that was basically hands-free.
After considering, and disqualifying, several approaches, I finally decided to use my bicycle helmet. I tried the stock Contour helmet mounts, but didn't like the way they felt - primarily because the camera sticks off to one side and is heavy enough that it is noticeable, and irritating.
It only took a few minutes to take some measurements of the top of my helmet and design a short plug to slip inside one of the air vents. Printing a test part to check the fit took a bit longer, of course.
Surprisingly enough, the test part fit perfectly without any modifications. The next step is to add the top flange for the camera. The mount is a snug fit, so I plan on securing it with some tape or velcro because I want it to be easily removable.
We'll see how it works this coming weekend when it is put into real use at RoboGames 2013.