3D printing company MakerBot has announced a new version of its Smart Extruder — a vital printer component whose flaws have gotten the company in hot water over the past two years. The Smart Extruder+ is designed to fit into MakerBot's fifth-generation Replicator printers, which were announced in early 2014. That includes the latest version of the MakerBot Replicator, as well as the smaller Replicator Mini and the plus-sized Replicator Z18.
Like the original design, the Smart Extruder+ is supposed to make Replicator printers simpler to use, more reliable, and more future-proof. It automatically detects when the printer's filament runs out and pauses the job, notifying users via a desktop or mobile app. It also can be quickly swapped out upon wearing out or becoming obsolete. But though the concept was sound, customers complained that the first Smart Extruder clogged and jammed easily, and that its lifespan was disproportionately short.
While the company promised more support and software improvements, a class action suit alleged that MakerBot and its parent Stratasys had known about the extruder's faults and misled investors about their severity. It was part of a run of bad luck in 2015, alongside two rounds of layoffs and a major restructuring.
MakerBot says the new Smart Extruder+ has been tested extensively by both it and Stratasys. The extruder is supposed to have worked "consistently and reliably" in those tests for at least 700 printing hours, with 90 percent of the units working after 1,200 hours, although MakerBot says that lifespans will vary significantly based on an individual printer's settings. Accordingly, it's doubling the warranty, covering extruders for six months instead of three.
That's good, because the Smart Extruder+ is also slightly more expensive than its predecessor: $199 instead of $175. Customers buying a new printer can get their first extruder for $99, as can anyone who owns a fifth-generation Replicator already. Preorders open today, with the first units shipping on January 18th.