Today sees the launch of the latest “prosumer” 3D printer from Formlabs. A year in development, Formlabs has been working on a brand new 3D printer concept — Form 1 — which offers true professional quality resolution at a price individual designers and engineers can afford. According to the company this is the 3D printer that “fills the gap between low-end hobbyist machines with limited resolution and high-end printers that cost tens of thousands of dollars.”
This is a launch message that has been heard before, so what makes the Form 1 different?
For a start, the Formlab’s founders and the Form 1’s developers have an extremely strong pedigree. All three — Maxim Lobovsky, David Cranor and Natan Linder — are graduates of MIT’s medialab — a hotbed of additive technology advancements and development. Inspired by the promise of 3D printing technology these three were confronted by the common obstacle faced by many would-be 3D printing users: the high price tag and complexity of truly high-quality 3d printing systems.
They were in a position to do something about it, and thus originated Formlabs, some 18 months ago. They also have some serious backers, which has got a lot of people’s attention. Most notably Mitch Kapor, Joi Ito, the director of MIT’s Media Lab and Eric Schmidt, the chairman of Google.
Another reason that Form 1 is raising expectations is because it utilizes the stereolithography (SL) process to achieve part resolution unheard of in the low-cost 3D printer market. The Form 1 3D printer forms layers as thin as 25 microns (.001 inches) with details as small as 300 microns (.012 inches) in a build volume of 125 x 125 x 165mm (4.9 x 4.9 x 6.5 inches). Formlabs is actively promoting its new printer as a way of overcoming the limited low-end FDM machines, by allowing users to print parts with the complex geometries, high level detailing and accurate surface finish necessary for the 3D printing of parts for professional designers — essentially filling the gap in the market perceived by many. Elegant and simple in design, Formlabs is promoting the Form 1 as a 3D printer that packs a punch in terms of capability, particularly considering the price point.
Form 1 incorporates proprietary Form software, custom-formulated resin materials and the Form Finish post-processing kit, a requirement for 3D printing with SL technology. According to Formlabs this combines to bring the market a complete, easy to use, professional 3D printing solution that is “as easy as pushing a button.”
Form Software offers a simple, intuitive user experience, according to Formlabs, by streamlining the process of importing .STL models from any 3D CAD package, generating smart support structures for complex geometry and sending jobs to the printer with only a few clicks. Formlabs has developed highly optimised model manipulation algorithms and a support structure generation engine from the ground up, so users can quickly prepare and send print jobs to the Form 1.
At time of launch, the Form 1 comes with one material offering – a resin engineered in-house with a neutral matte gray color, which is great for look-and-feel models, standalone parts or as a base colour for painting. Over time, Formlabs says it will develop and sell an entire palette of materials for the Form 1. A variety of colours, transparency, flexibility and even burnout capability for lost wax casting processes are all on the horizon.
With any 3D printing process, there are key finishing steps to get the print ready for final purpose. Formlabs has designed the Form Finish kit — a finishing tray and accessories package — to equip users with easy part finishing tools, while keeping their workspaces clean and organised.
Like others before it, however, Formlabs is turning to the crowdfunding platform Kickstarter to finance full production of the Form 1 and is pre-selling the full printer, software and accessories package at a discount for $2,299 for those who order first.