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MakerBot Number Nine

Technically it's a MakerBot Cupcake CNC but, since it's from the first batch (Serial Number 09) of the first product released by MakerBot Industries, I call it MakerBot Number Nine because it defines what MakerBot is all about.

What Was I Thinking?

I was fortunate to be going through university in the early '90s right when Linux was making the rounds - Math and Engineering, Control and Communications Systems program at Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario. (Cool! There wasn't a Control and Robotics option back then.) That box of a hundred-odd 3.5" floppies landed on my desk and I was plunged into the second emerging wave of Open Source software - the first being the BSD origins of UNIX. With healthy wiki, forum, google group and twitter extended participation (to name a few channels), the RepRap+MakerBot+Thingiverse projects feel like they could be leading a third wave of open source innovation and community.

ShopBot was a possibility, but even the small model would have taken up sizable space in the garage. With small children in the house, noise was a significant factor; subtractive CNC is rarely quiet. A laser cutter would have been cool, but I couldn't justify the cash with a service like Ponoko at hand with a broader range of materials and community experience to pull on. They do steel too!

I watched Desktop Factory development make progress and start taking pre-orders but couldn't bring myself to pull that trigger. There were too many unknowns for me around input material which made it feel too much like the old 2D printer ink/toner game; we'll sell you the printer cheap and make money on the proprietary ink/toner cartridges. Also, with an opaque development process it's hard to grow a community beyond the hard-core, existing (ab)users of the tech.

I've been a closet Industrial Design (ID) enthusiast for years. The local ID school ( recently started a Masters program, but what with parental obligations and startup-style work schedules there's little time left to entertain that sort of additional commitment. My Makerbot provides me with an outlet to explore the whole design process at my own pace. Perhaps one day I'll enroll... At least by then I'll have something in the way of a portfolio!

No matter what happens in the future, since all aspects of the hardware and software are open sourced, my MakerBot will always have a repair and upgrade path. It's very much about reconnecting with the materials around me. My tools are extensions of me, the cyborg me if you will.

What Have I Made?



  • Bathroom counter fix
    • Still working on this.
    • Repeat after me: MakerBot output is not the same as injection-molded output. Modify your designs accordingly or they will crumble.
    • Poorly manufactured designs tend to shear - Time to floss the extruder's teeth!


  • Toy Train Track (Small - 54mm)
    • This was a tricky one. Because it's 72mm long and only 12mm high, earlier iterations tended to suffer from some serious raft separation and fabject warpage issues. I finally figured out a way to design around the problem by making the bottom section a lattice. This gives it time to cool and shift independent of the upper geometry. There is still some minor raft separation and bowing from the upper layer contraction, but nowhere near as bad as the previous version.
    • MakerBot Printed Toy Train Track


MakerBot Upgrades!



My Process


It took many short morning and evening sessions over the course of two months to get my MakerBot operational - unboxed on May 5th, 2009 to first-print on June 27th, 2009. Such is life with parental obligations and a day-job that pays well.

On the other hand, my Basement Isolation Booth took from August 31st, 2006 to February 24th, 2007 to reach a useable state. Slow build-time is relative.

Figuring out how to do SMD for my first-edition cupcake was worth the price of admission. Looking back on it, I can't believe I waited that long to gear up for that skill!

Make Mistakes

I love making mistakes! I learn so much more from a single mistake than a multitude of successes.

  • Early mistakes are better than those late in the game.
  • I try to be prepared for my mistakes; know the possible failure modes.
    • (I assembled the extruder myself) + (it gets very hot) = (there is a nice big fire extinguisher within reach at all times)

Calipers Are My New Best Friend

I find the easiest place to start capturing my own ideas around the house.

  • Lego was a natural target - it's made of ABS too - but smaller dimensions and tolerances do make it tricky to fab just right.
  • Broken stuff that I never got that replacement A Round Toit necessary to fix.
  • My kids' toys are entering the fabject stream: Source and Printed Toy Train Track


Be Free Little Tool

There's a lot in the way of free software out there. Half the battle is finding the right tool for the job and understanding its limitations.

  • Coming from an IC design background I probably have an edge on most folks visualizing layered fabrication processes. Even so, I take advantage of the visualization capabilities of skeinforge to slice and re-slice my models to understand how my MakerBot is going to build a given fabject.
  • Coming from an Electronic Design Automation (EDA) background, there's opportunity to borrow long-since-expired-patent tricks for simple pre-processing of design data for better quality prints.
  • SketchUp is a useful tool.
    • I capture my designs in CAD
    • Where it makes sense (e.g. Lego Compatible Disc Buttons), I break up my design into a sequence of macro-slices. I can then virtually stack them, see what works, and edit only the bits that need to change.
    • For those designs that don't slice easily, I still try to break it up into a set of sub-components. I'm able to tweak parts of the design without affecting the whole and avoid some of the more dramatic side-effects of semi-automated tool features like vertex snapping.
    • I draw rulers. Lots of rulers. Rulers are the anchors that keep everything snap-positioned and sized properly.
  • The Collada (DAE) format Sketchup uses happens to be XML. XML is easy to parse in nearly any scripting language, and XSL Transforms make for some pretty powerful ways to manipulate XML source in something as simple as a web browser, Java, and/or command-line xlstproc.

Continuing Education

Once upon a time, I used to be intimately familiar with control system design. Not so much now as my career path has diverged from my original studies. MakerBot presents me with an opportunity to get back in touch with those weaker synapses and perhaps form some new ones in the process.

Hypothetical: MakerBot; A Study In Undergraduate Engineering and Education Systems

Makerbot presents a unique platform upon which multiple engineering disciplines can collaborate and explore basic principles and interdependencies. The process also serves as a bridge into related studies in arts and humanities.

Mechanical Engineering

  • Mechanical CAD
  • Construction + Tolerances
  • Static vs. Dynamic Analysis
  • Thermal management

Electrical Engineering

  • Schematics
    • Capture
    • Simulation
  • PCB Layout
    • Parts selection + tradeoffs
    • Physical design considerations
      • Trace widths
      • Cross-talk
      • Design for manufacturing and assembly
  • Circuit Construction
    • SMD techniques
    • Test and measurement debug
    • Twist wires together to reduce noise sensitivity.
  • Power Systems Design
  • Control Systems design

Materials Engineering

  • Extrusion system design
  • Materials selection
  • Thermal management

Communication Systems Engineering

  • Communication protocols
  • Error detection and correction
  • Modulation schemes

Computer Systems Engineering

  • Application specific language parsing
  • Geometric analysis and algorithms
  • Optimal tool path trajectories
  • Source code revision control strategies
  • Bug tracking

Engineering in Society

  • Open Source
    • Software strategies and trade-offs
    • Hardware strategies and trade-offs
  • Intellectual Property
    • Copyright
      • Creative commons
      • Public domain
    • Industrial Design
    • Patents
    • Trademarks
  • Community
    • Wikis
    • Forums
    • Mailing Lists
    • At Large (IRC, IM, Twitter, Facebook, etc).
  • Sociology and Psychology
    • Reputation management
    • Dispute resolution
    • Volunteer army, proper care and feeding of.
    • Trolls; do not feed

To Do List

All That Is Old Is New Again

  • Review my notebooks of ideas captured over the years and see what I can MakerBot sooner.

Make it Better, Faster, Stronger

  • More upgrades for my MakerBot along the same lines as my Locking Bearing Bracket.
  • Printable circuit boards, not necessarily square or even planar.
  • It's a bootstrap process. Once you have a starter MakerBot, it's relatively easy to come up with improvements along the way with the ultimate goal being a fully-printable future generation MakerBot.

Around The House

  • Light switch face-plates cringe in terror as I approach.
  • Electric socket faceplate, thy name is integrated child-proofing.

For Every Board A Custom Case

  • Case designs for my Gumstix computers.
  • Case designs for my Sparkfun breakout boards.
  • Case designs for some little micro-LCD units I have.

Ramp Up the Canadian Contingent

Into the Future

  • I'm watching RepRap Mendel intently, particularly the bit about it making its own electronics.
  • Being in the microelectronics and by extension MEMS industry, coming up with ever-smaller makerbots using the previous generation is a most intriguing proposition. It's now a question of how long will it be until - not if - we will have home atom-pusher replicators?
  • Closed-cycle fabrication. All that is old shall be remade anew. I'm saving up all my spent rafts and trimmings for this part.

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