I’ve been telling people all day about the new MakerBot Thing-O-Matic, so I’m just going to write it all down here.

There has been quite a bit of news lately from MakerBot Industries. New add-ons for the MakerBot Cupcake CNC 3D printer (Automated Build Platform, Cyclops 3D scanner, and Unicorn plotter toolhead) were followed by reduced prices on the Cupcake kits.

Today at the inaugural New York Maker Faire, MakerBot introduced a new kit – the MakerBot Thing-O-Matic.

It’s very Cupcake-like, with an Automated Build Platform and Mk5 Plastruder. But there are a few design differences between the $1225 Thing-O-Matic and the $899 Cupcake CNC Ultimate Kit (which also contains these upgrades).

The Z platform now rides on two smooth rods and is driven by a single acme rod in the rear, instead of four threaded M8 rods driven by a belt and pulleys. This design is much closer to a proper CNC machine and should provide smoother Z axis motion.

The X and Y axis motion has been rotated 90 degrees. In the Cupcake, the Y stage rides on top of the X axis. In the Thing-O-Matic, the X axis rides on top of the Y axis. I was expecting that the next MakerBot design would be more Mendel-like, moving the X axis motion to the printhead. That they would just switch the X and Y design is surprising, but I suspect it may be to get the Y stage end cap out of the ejection zone of the Automated Build Platform.

Finally (and perhaps most exciting), the Thing-O-Matic has the new generation 4 electronics, which have been hidden away inside the case. This allows the use of a thermocouple to monitor extruder temperature, which should be a vast improvement over the current thermistor. The computer interface is now a regular USB port, instead of a USB-TTL cable.

The design changes are enough that the Cupcake will not be upgradable to the Thing-O-Matic. But it’s not really a huge leap; there isn’t much the Thing-O-Matic can do that a tricked-out Cupcake cannot. The new build platform is 10 or 20 percent larger, and apparently the maximum build height is slightly taller. But with a Mk5 and an Automated Build Platform, the Cupcake is just about as capable, even without the design improvements.

The idea behind the Thing-O-Matic is to make a reliable, fire-and-forget printer that can mass produce 3D parts without the tinkering and finickiness of the Cupcake. We’ll see how well it works out in practice. Even if it isn’t all that much less of a tinkerers machine than the Cupcake, the design improvements are exciting.

There’s one more design detail that I suspect the Thing-O-Matic has – a rotary encoder on the extruder motor. We had a MakerBot Party at CRASH Space today and build to Mk5 Plastruders, and discovered a mention of the encoder in the build instructions, which wasn’t there when I built the CRASH Bot Mk5.

An encoder would let the Plastruder know how far the extruder motor had moved. It’s a regular DC motor, so there isn’t a great deal of accuracy, and an encoder might help control the oozing that is all-too-common with the Mk5 (like the Mk4 before it). Not sure how much it would help, but I can’t think of another reason for them to include an encoder.

Mk5 Plastruders

I was given a MakerBot Cupcake last Christmas. Well, given permission to buy one. I haven’t actually bought it yet, because I planned on getting up to speed on the CRASH Space bot first. I’m at a point where I think I mostly know what I’m doing. Perhaps I’ll be purchasing a Thing-O-Matic this Christmas instead.

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