Making a maker: The Thing-O-Matic 3D printer jumps to life. Sort of.

After spending a night mesmerized by Noisebridge’s beautiful RepRap 3D printer, I was ready to go back to working with the cranky old MakerBot Thing-O-Matic that has been stubbornly avoiding my attempts at 3D printing anything for weeks.

Noisebridge Thing-O-Matic

I came equipped with a new tool: a 2 GB SD card that could plug directly into the side of the printer. My big issue in past weeks has been that my computer doesn’t recognize the printer, stopping me from even attempting to print something.

I loaded my print file onto the card and plugged it into the Thing-O-Matic. I waited. Nothing happened.

It turns out that you need either a MakerBot accessory called the Gen4 Interface or a USB connection to your computer to print from an SD card. I had neither.

It was an especially frustrating realization considering that a MakerBot customer service representative, who was admittedly very kind and prompt with his help, had personally recommended I switch to printing with an SD card. We went over my printing troubles a couple weeks ago and he advised that the printer was likely experiencing an issue with the hardware where the USB plugs in. That advice was later disproved by other Noisebridge members who said they could connect to the Thing-O-Matic via USB without issue. At no point did he mention that I would need the Gen4 given my clearly stated inability to connect via USB.

The Gen4 Interface. Photo courtesy of MakerBot

The Gen4 Interface. Photo courtesy of MakerBot

A Noisebridger sitting next to me at the 3D printing stand offered his help. He went through the steps to set up the 3D printing software on my computer and then posed what should have been an obvious thought: Had I installed the drivers that came with the software?

Oops. No, no I hadn’t. I installed them. Instantly, my computer recognized the Thing-O-Matic.

I got a little too enthusiastic with my thank yous. And then got a little too enthusiastic with my printing. After plugging in the temperatures and other print settings recommended by the Noisebridger, I hit print. The Thing-O-Matic’s print head began jerking around before suddenly slamming into the side of the printer, where it let out a steady, cringe-worthy grinding noise until the Noisebridger hit a lever on the printer to make it stop.

I tried a few different settings with the same result. At one point, I actually coaxed the printer into drooling a few long strands of neon green filament.

I’m staying positive, considering I’m much closer to printing something than I was a week ago. It’s possible that the Thing-O-Matic is just outright broken. I’m not technical enough to fix it on my own, but I hear that the equally-old Noisebridge Ultimaker is fixed and turning out beautiful prints. I may try switching to see if I get better results.