One of the greatest pieces of developing tech on the market today is the 3D printer. Every day we get closer and closer to the replicators from Star Trek, and that’s pretty much as cool as it gets. While the 3D printers of today are pretty far from spitting out a Raktajino on command, there’s no denying how increasingly important it is to pay attention to them. Makerbot Industries is, by far, the most talked about of the current 3D printer companies with their amusingly named line of printers. While the classic Thing-O-Matic is the pride of the fleet, the Makerbot team took to CES 2012 with the goal of unveiling The Replicator. A re-imagined MakerbotThe previous iterations of the Makerbot design worked in a basic manner. The base plate would move back and forth as the extruder on top spit out the heated fiber. As the plate moved around and around, the structure would take form, and eventually you would have your item. The Replicator does things a little differently. The extruder on the replicator moves around as the plate remains stationary, and this model is actually capable of supporting two extruders. With two, you can have a different color in each extruder, so you don’t have to switch back and forth manually when you want your project to have multiple colors. Having the extruder move around instead of the baseplate has increased accuracy significantly, according to Makerbot founder Bre Pettis. Pettis explained that in the previous model it was difficult to account for the increase in mass as what you printed took shape on the baseplate. This lead to certain limitations when it came to how accurately the machine would work. The Replicator is using many of the same servos as the previous model, but is much more accurate because of this re-design. The end result is the ability to print increasingly complex structures without the rough edges or accidentally loose fibers. Another significant change to the Makerbot line is the baseplate itself. Since you are essentially heating up a form of plastic and sticking it to a surface, the baseplate needs to be coated in something that the plastic adheres to while you are in the middle of a print job, but it can’t be stuck to it permanently, or cause any damage when you are trying to remove the project once it is finished. The baseplate for the Replicator is covered in Kapton tape. Kapton allows the project to stay in one place, but when the plastic cools the project will usually pop right off of the tape on its own. When talking with Pettis, he explained that the discovery of Kapton for this use was one of intense trial and error. After many many attempts to solve this problem, they stumbled across Kapton. Who is it for?Just about every geek out there wants a 3D printer. You’ve seen the custom made dice and the random little projects that pop up, but what kind of person truly needs a Makerbot? When I asked Bre Pettis, he responded without hesitation. Parents and Children are the most active market. Sitting a child down and allowing them to absorb this complicated tool is no different then when we were sat down in front of a computer when we were young. Showing a child that they can take their imagination and actually fabricate the objects in their minds, teaching them the beginnings of things like 3D architecture and the fundamentals of engineering. The next wave of thinkers will have tools like a Makerbot at their disposal. Of course, its also for the big kids. A full Makerbot Replicator kit with dual extruders will cost you $1750. In our hands-on demo, we found that the average project took about an hour to complete, while larger projects like the companion cube Pettis wouldn’t set down (because he knew better) would take a bit longer. The Replicator doesn’t use both colors simultaneously, but having dual extruders means it can switch back and forth between those colors much faster. Either way, multi-color projects will still take longer. Final ThoughtsThe Replicator is, in every respect, a solid step forward for Makerbot. There are improvements all across the board that are more optimizations on the current design rather than a reinvention of their project. At the current price point, the Replicator is still out of reach for anyone who isn’t either a serious enthusiast or an organization, but with advancements like the Replicator it is not hard to see a very short time before seeing a 3D printer in a house is not such a strange thing. Personally, I already have a spot all picked out in my office for a Replicator, and look forward to seeing more of these devices used for educational purposes.