Composed of three new products, including Formlabs’ Form Auto and High Volume Resin hardware packages, as well as a Fleet Control software, its ‘Automation Ecosystem’ is said to help users drive greater 3D printing utilization. In doing so, the firm anticipates that its offering will help dental labs, service bureaus and job shops to ramp up production, without significantly raising their labor requirements.
“The Formlabs Automation Ecosystem is a seamless solution for ramping up production with 3D printer fleets, staying true to the ease of use of all Formlabs products,” explained Formlabs CPO, Dávid Lakatos. “Formlabs users recently achieved a major milestone, with more than 100 million parts printed on our 3D printers, and by adding this ecosystem, Formlabs is increasing the capacity so users can deliver further 3D printing innovation.”
The evolution of Formlabs’ offering
Formlabs started out with a focus on stereolithography (SLA) 3D printing, but it has gradually expanded its portfolio, in a way that has allowed it to address new markets and customer needs. More recent additions to the firm’s SLA offering include the high-speed Form 3+ and Form 3B+ 3D printers, which launched at last year’s CES convention.
Built to succeed Formlabs’ Form 3 and Form 3B systems, these incorporate more flexible build plates that constitute a significant upgrade on their predecessors. Thanks to their integrated ‘Build Platform 2’ hardware, complete with ‘Quick Release Technology,’ these machines were said at launch to make the tool-free removal of SLA-printed parts easier than ever before. However, while both sport a 250mW laser and 85-micron laser spot size, they’re marketed towards different audiences.
Priced at $3,750, the Form 3+ is a general-purpose system built for functional prototyping and the short-run production of end-use parts. The Form 3B+, meanwhile, is a tad pricier at $4,299 but is more geared towards the precision 3D printing of medical devices, surgical tools, and other patient-specific parts, with a high level of surface finish.
Outside of SLA 3D printing, Formlabs has also extended its offering into Selective Laser Sintering (SLS) with the launch of the Fuse 1 and Fuse 1+ 30W. Even though the former scored highly on accessibility and repeatability in a 3D Printing Industry review last February, the company later launched a beefed-up 30-watt laser version in July 2022, with broader high-performance material compatibility.
Formlabs’ big reveal at CES 2023
Designed to help users drive down their idle printer time as a means of improving their cost-per-part, Formlabs’ new Automation Ecosystem is made up of three core elements. The first of these is the High Volume Resin System, a 5-liter resin bag and pump package, designed to expand the capacity of Formlabs’ standard SLA printers and reduce their waste, while minimizing any cartridge handling tasks.
Like the High Volume Resin System, the second part of Formlabs’ Automation Ecosystem, Form Auto, can be used with any Form 3+ or Form 3B+ machine. This hardware extension is effectively designed to automatically remove finished parts from the build chamber and initiate new prints, in a way that eliminates time-consuming human interactions.
Meanwhile, Fleet Control, the software element of this platform, packs various features from the PreForm and Dashboard print preparation and consumable management tools. In practise, the new program allows Form 3 generation printer users to create a continuously moving job queue that can be managed remotely, anywhere in the world.
While each part of the Automation Ecosystem can be bought separately, Formlabs says that together, they help ease the transition from low to high-volume 3D printing. In addition to productivity gains, the company claims its latest offering could provide users with savings of up to 80% on labor, 40% on cost-per-part, and 96% on packaging waste.
Already, the firm has tested its automated workflow in-house, at its Manufacturing Service Bureau, which runs over 180 SLA and SLS 3D printers around the clock. Since they started running betas of Form Auto and Fleet Control in July 2020, the facility’s operators are said to have had more free time to spend on value-adding tasks, in particular, due to the way the add-ons have helped automate post-processing.
Those lucky enough to be at CES 2023 in person can check out Formlabs’ new Automation Ecosystem at booth 54217.
Despite CES primarily being a consumer-focused technology expo, it’s sometimes targeted by 3D printing firms seeking to reach the widest possible audience with their latest product launches. Anycubic’s new Mega SE and Wash & Cure Plus systems launched at CES 2021, complete with a simplified assembly and upgraded post-curing capabilities, allowing them to better address entry-level users.
That year, Aectual also launched its beta architectural 3D printing service. Fulfilled using its ‘XL’ construction system, the firm’s offering allows customers to design custom household items ranging from furniture to outdoor canopies. At the time, Aectual claimed its ‘design-to-delivery’ process reduced the cost of custom-made architecture by up to 50%.
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Featured image shows a Formlabs print farm equipped with its new Automation Ecosystem products. Photo via Formlabs.