Upgrading your Makerbot Replicator2 – 2014

3D printers are almost unique as a product: they can upgrade themselves. The Rep2 is one of the most popular/successful “production ready” printers out there. This post looks at what to do when you get a new one to upgrade it to the latest, bestest it can be.

What kind of 3D Printer are you?

There are two kinds of 3D printer in the world:

  1. Super-expensive hunks from companies like Stratasys and 3D Systems (I’ve used a couple; very surprised by the high cost + low quality!). Much of the tech seems to be 10+ years old, hasn’t improved – allegedly those types of companies use patents to prevent competition, instead of improving their own products. As a bonus: no user-serviceable parts, which is ironic in a 3D printer
  2. Super-new printers that didn’t exist until 2 years ago, when the patents started expiring. “Let a thousand flowers bloom”: these are all unique and special butterflies, and are mostly user-upgradeable. Being butterflies, they can be soul-destroyingly capricious and fragile at times, but they’re rapidly improving, and they can upgrade themselves by printing better components

Upgrades

When you buy a new computer, with Windows or OSX installed, what’s the first thing it does (automatically)?

Connect to the internet and check if there are any automatic upgrades / “updates” / security-fixes for the OS

You can (and should) do the same with a 3D Printer: like a computer’s OS, these are a product that can upgrade themselves safely and effectively.

There are 3 challenges though:

  1. Which version do I have right now?
  2. What upgrades exist for that version?
  3. Has the manufacturer applied any already?

No-one is managing this process. So, I’m going to make a start…

I have personal experience with: Replicator2, RepRap (Mendel, Huxley). I’ll start with those. Please share if you have info on others, and I’ll update the post: but bear in mind I need to know version identifiers etc!

Makerbot Replicator 2

What version do you have?

Versions of all Replicators (Replicator, Replicator2, Replicator2X, Replicator4) seem to run in “Mk” numbers, currently Mk8. I can’t find an official page listing these; suprisingly, Wikipedia also draws a blank (no pages for the Rep printers!).

Released Identifying marks/tests
Mark8 2014 Has a spring-loaded lever on the side of the extruder block; instruction manual requires you to “press down the lever” when loading filament. If you disassemble it, it looks like this (but yours is black, not yellow):
Mark7 and below 2012 There’s no level, no spring, and manual has you simply pushing filament in. If you disassemble it, it looks like this (but yours is black, not yellow):

Upgrades (Replicator2)

Mark 8 Extruder

If you don’t have one, print it now and install it. This makes such a huge difference to print quality that Makerbot started shipping them as-standard on all new Rep2 printers.

LINK: Makerbot user-printable Mk8 Extruder
EFFECTS:

  • Printer supports lower-quality (cheaper) filament with no drop in output quality
  • Printer has fewer jams on ALL filament types
  • Prints are more “even”: thin items less likely to break or collapse during printing, complex items less likely to snarl, etc.

UNTESTED: Mark 8 Extruder for ‘flexible’ filament

Want to print “rubber” filament? NinjaFlex, FlexPLA, etc? … your MK8 extruder won’t handle it (filament is too “springy”)

LINK: Upgraded MK8, re-uses the metal bits, but subtly fixed for springy filament
EFFECTS:

  • You can safely print “flexible” filaments
  • Supposedly: you can still print all “normal” filament; this is simply an improved design

Filament-tube holder

Rep2’s up to Mark8 (at least) sometimes ship with incorrect Filament Tubes (apparently: Makerbot has failed to do quality-control on their product, and one of their suppliers “sometimes” sells them tubes of the wrong size). These tubes are slightly too large, and regularly “pop out” of the machine.

But even with a perfect Mark8, Makerbot’s design is flawed: the filament is yanked sideways at a steep angle as it comes off the spool. The manual warns about this, but offers no solutions.

This upgrade fixes both problems.

LINK: Improved filament guide tube holder
EFFECTS:

  • Prevents tube popping-out: reduces chance of bent filament (i.e.: jammed printer)
  • Makes filament unwind more easily: reduces chance of failed prints (i.e.: filament got stuck partway)
  • (rarely): Prints are more “even”: thin items less likely to break or collapse during printing, complex items less likely to snarl, etc.

Filament-brusher

Filament gets dirty and dusty. Makerbot’s design has NO protection for your filament – it sits naked on a spool. ANY contaminant on the surface causes flaws in your prints.

This upgrade wipes the filament clean before entering the printer.

LINK: Filament brusher
EFFECTS:

  • Wipes dust/dirt off filament, slightly increasing print quality
  • OPTIONAL: smears oil on filament (use the right kind of oil!), improving print quality for lower-quality filament

Enclosure

3D printers need to be enclosed. This is supremely obvious and un-patentable. However, someone apparently patented it (so I’m told), making it illegal/dangerous to sell “enclosed” printers (the patent is invalid, but can you afford a lawsuit from 3DSystems / Stratasys / etc? No?)

However … nothing to stop you doing it yourself. That’s fine :).

LINK: Transparent walls, door, and lid for Replicator2
EFFECTS:

  • Prevents air currents hitting your print: tall prints will have less deformity. Complex prints succeed more often, at higher quality
  • Prevents dust getting inside your printer: the printer works for longer without maintenance/repair
  • Keeps temperature more “even”: wide/flat prints, and complex prints, will “warp”/bend less during printing.
  • SAFETY: reduces the chance of someone sticking their fingers in! Or dropping things inside!

Modifications (Replicator2)

These don’t so much “replace” the existing parts, as “add to” them.

Front-mount for spools

“I’ve always hated turning around the 3D Printer to change the spool. In my classroom, students have almost dropped the printer off the table while turning it around. The Front Spool Holder fixes all of that!”

LINK: MakerBot Replicator 2 Front Spool Holder

EFFECTS:

  • MUCH easier to change your spools between prints (also during a print, but there are better ways of doing that)

Mount for unspooled, bare filament

Occasionally, you may end up with filament that has no spool – it’s just a ring of plastic in a bag. Spooling filament is a lot harder than it sounds (trust me, been there, won’t do that again). This design lets you attach the naked filament straight to your printer and print it.

LINK: Self Adjusting Filament Holder 2
EFFECTS:

  • You can print bare filament without worrying about tangles, snaps, etc ruining your print

Replacements (Replicator2)

3D Printing doesn’t (yet) have retail outlets on every high street; while your printer is working well, it’s a very good idea to print some replacement parts. When it stops working, you don’t need to hunt on eBay and wait days or weeks to resume printing.

Original Spool holder/mount

Currently, Makerbot sells you a printer with two slots for mounting spools, but only ONE of the proprietary spool-mounts that goes in the slot. Print one of these off to match, and you can mount two spools at the back.

LINK: Original Replicator Spool
NOTES:

  • This won’t be quite so low-friction as the original part; I would recommend sanding it afterwards (or similar) to give it a smoother finish
  • Some filament suppliers use spools with smaller inner diameter; they won’t fit this mount. But with this STL file, you can shrink the spindle until it’s small enough to fit them.

UNTESTED: Replacement X-belt

If your belt snaps, you’re in trouble (I’ve had this happen, it’s a very sad time). You should really replace with a belt made of rubber, but if you’re feeling adventurous / desperate for a short-term fix and have no hardware store that’s open … try printing one.

LINK: X-belt (rubber) – may require cutting post-print
NOTES:

  • REQUIRES: a flexible filament
  • REQUIRES: the “MK8 Extruder for Flexible filament” listed above
  • Whether it works is highly dependent on the brand of Flexible filament you use: you need something which isn’t too springy. But … if your belt just snapped, this will probably do as a short-term replacement, especially in tandem with any of the thousands of “belt tensioners” you can print.

Related miscellanea…

An EPIC guide to different filaments, and how to get them to work reliably (temperatues, speeds, troubleshooting), worth reading start to finish, courtesy @nothinglabs

2 thoughts on “Upgrading your Makerbot Replicator2 – 2014

  1. M G Krick

    Makerbot has no parts list or exploded view drawing of their Replicator 2 printer. I have a damaged X axis idler pulley holder, due to no lubrication and cheap design. Does anyone make or have access to a parts list so a replacement can be ordered.

  2. adam Post author

    Makerbot support is embarrassingly slow to reply, but they seem.to have an iron grip on all information etc. I strongly recommend you go via them.

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