MakerBot is known for making 3D printed products that are made of colorful ABS and PLA plastic filament. By using its unique desktop printers, the company was able to produce thousands of action figures, toys and random objects for a number of makers around the globe.
At CES in Las Vegas, MakerBot announced that it will now be using new PLA-composite filaments which are made with stone, metal and wood, all of which would work with fifth-generation MakerBot Replicator printers. The company is also releasing its Smart Extruder, which can be swapped out easily, allowing it to print with various materials.
"With these new materials, the potential of the swappable MakerBot Replicator Smart Extruder will start to be realized," said MakerBot in a blog post. "In just minutes, you will be able to swap in a new extruder optimized for these innovative filaments. Then you will be ready to create prototypes that look and feel like the real thing so that you can accelerate 'Real Time Prototyping' -- without purchasing a new 3D printer."
By saying that the materials are composites, it means that wood, metal and stone are combined with plastic for them to have the ability to melt and then eventually solidify. These qualities are important if such materials would have to run through a 3D printer. MakerBot further advertises that consumers can still polish or add stain to the finished products to make them more life-like. The new materials are to be released in late 2015.
Some background on the materials: ABS and PLA are thermoplastics, meaning they become soft and moldable when heated and return to a solid when cooled. PLA is considered more "earth friendly" since it is a polymer made from sugar in plant products including corn, potatoes or sugar-beets, compared with the petroleum-based ABS, which is a polymer plastic with mild flexibility that is more easily sanded and machined. They start as plastic resin pellets and are processed into plastic filament rods easy to load into printers.
Apart from the new materials, MakerBot also announced that it is launching a number of new MakerBot 3D Professional Services. These will include design services, education, consulting, software applications and 3D printed products which shall be offered to organizations, companies and schools that are looking into integrating the technology in the curriculum.
"Every MakerBot Innovation Center includes education provided by our expert MakerBot Learning instructors. We deliver training in various aspects of 3D printing for stakeholders, users, and for the technicians managing the printers. There's also an optional consulting service, to help get people up and running faster, and of course, support. MakerBot offers MakerBot Innovation Centers our highest level of support possible, the MakerBot MakerCare Protection Plan."
There's no information yet on the cost of the new filaments. However, buyers can be expected to purchase more print heads. While each of the three new printers of MakerBot is designed with the Smart Extruder, the latter has been further enhanced to cater to each type of specialty filament.