3D printer manufacturer and designer Formlabs, based in Boston, MA, has announced the launch of two new machines, and a partnership with local footwear manufacturer New Balance.

The first of the two machines is the Fuse 1 selective laser sintering (SLS) bench-top 3D printer.

The second is the Form Cell, which is Formlabs’ answer to production-scale 3D printing, using a robotic arm to operate a farm of Form 2 SLA machines.

A sliding robotic arm retrieves a 3D printed part from a Form 2 machine in the Form Cell. Clip via Formlabs on YouTube

Inside the Fuse 1

Instead of the resin material taken by the Form 2 3D printer, the Fuse 1 uses a powder-based feedstock, and a laser to sinter the particles together. Available materials include high strength and chemcial-resistant plastics Nylon PA 12 and PA 11, used in the industry for functional prototyping and end-user parts.

Parts 3D printed on the Fuse 1, including a drill housing, bicycle seat and headphones prototype. Photo via Formlabs

Parts 3D printed on the Fuse 1, including a drill housing, bicycle seat and headphones prototype. Photo via Formlabs

Sintering 3D objects from a powder bed means that all parts can be produced support-free, allowing geometric complexity of designs and a better finish direct from the printer. The material used in the machine can also be re-used, which contributes to Formlabs’ assertion that “SLS produces the least expensive per-part cost in 3D printing”.

Detail of a lobster 3D printed on the Fuse 1. Photo via Formlabs

Detail of a lobster 3D printed on the Fuse 1. Photo via Formlabs

Beta testing and pricing 

Beta versions of the machine have already been in use at a number of global brands, including Google’s Advanced Technology and Projects (ATAP) Skunkworks. David Beardsley, manager at Google ATAP, comments,

SLS technology enables designers and engineers to accelerate their prototyping process by combining realistic material properties with the minimization of 3D printing design constraints. With the Fuse 1, a combination of high precision parts, reduced cycle time and robust materials allow teams to easily iterate throughout the design process and accelerate from whiteboard to final parts.

The Fuse 1 SLS 3D printer. Photo via Formlabs

The Fuse 1 SLS 3D printer. Photo via Formlabs

Prices for Fuse 1 start at $9,999, which is around twenty times less expensive than the cheapest SLS 3D printers for industrial use. A full package of the 3D printer, with post-processing powder removal station, extra piston power and materials, is available for a further $10,000 at $19,999. First shipping is expected mid 2018.

A closer look at the Form Cell

As seen in Formlabs’ teaser video, the Form Cell is an enclosure designed to operate, unload, wash and cure parts 3D printed on a bank of Form 2 3D printers. The enclosed system allows 24 hour production, cutting down on labour and material costs.

The Form Cell automated setup. Photo via Formlabs

The Form Cell automated setup. Photo via Formlabs

To get to this stage, the Form Cell has also undergone a system of rigorous testing, as detailed by Formlabs CEO Max Lobovsky,

…with Form Cell, we are making an efficient, scalable production solution by leveraging the Form 2, an SLA print engine that’s already stood the test of printing more than 10 million parts.

New Balance footwear partnership

In a separate announcement from the company, Formlabs is also due to collaborate with footwear manufacturer New Balance. Full details of the partnership are so far under wraps, but the company has revealed that it will be helping New Balance create high performance, 3D printable materials for continuous production of shoes.

Production of the footwear is expected to begin at New Balance in Boston sometime in 2018.

The trend toward series production

The Form Cell is a marker of a current trend in the 3D printing industry for machines that can manage series production. At RAPID + TCT Stratasys announced the Continuous Build Demonstrator for the production of FDM parts. Voodoo Manufacturing have also set up Project Skywalker capable of servicing a bank of up to nine 3D printers through the night.

This level of production is especially pertinent for footwear manufacturers seeking to add 3D printing to production lines. In the Futurecraft 4D project, adidas are incorporating Carbon 3D printers to make mass-cutomized sneaker midsoles, and Reebok are utilizing 3D printing in the Liquid Factory concept.

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Featured image: Ski goggles SLS 3D printed on the Fuse 1 and still in the powder bed. Photo via Formlabs

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