Formlabs today announced the latest versions of its 3D printers for advanced digital fabrication – the Form 3 and Form 3L printers. The printers will be demonstrated at the company’s booths this week at the Additive Manufacturing Users Group (AMUG) show in Chicago, and at Hannover Messe show in Germany.
The printers also feature a new process the company calls Low Force Stereolithography (LFS), an advanced form of stereolithography that “delivers consistently flawless parts by adapting to your part’s geometry to deliver the perfect balance of detail and speed.” The LFS process uses a custom-designed system of lasers and mirrors and a flexible film tank to cure solid isotropic parts from liquid resin with pinpoint precision, Formlabs said.
“We’ve completely re-engineered our approach to resin 3D printing with the [LFS] print process behind the Form 3 and Form 3L,” said Max Lobovsky, CEO and co-founder of Formlabs. “We entered the industry seven years ago with the first powerful, affordable desktop SLA 3D printer, and since then have shipped more than 40,000 printers, and our customers have printed more than 40 million parts. Now users are leading the way in how to grow 3D printing from one machine to many, from prototyping tool to game changer. We’re excited to take another huge leap forward with LFS 3D printing.”
Easier cleanup, higher accuracy
Features of the LFS process include:
- A flexible film tank that reduces peel force;
- A modular light processing unit (LPU) that maintains a precise, high density laser spot to ensure accurate and repeatable prints;
- Easier cleanup and smoother parts with tear-away light-touch supports;
- Integrated sensors that help maintain ideal print conditions, sending alerts about the state of the machine;
- Remote printing through the online dashboard.
“If you’ve ever used a 3D printer and remove the parts from the printer, you know there’s sometimes these support structures that you have to break parts off from, and minimizing those support structures, making parts easier to remove, that’s really important so they don’t have marks from the support structures,” said Lobovsky in an interview with Robotics Business Review.
The new process also provides scalability for its printers – the Form 3L simultaneously uses two LPUs to bring large format 3D printing in-house, with five times the build volume and two times the laser power of the Form 3, the company said.
“We were able to take that technology and build the Form 3L by taking two LPUs and combine them side by side,” said Lobovsky. “Because it applies less force to the parts, it’s easy to scale it up to print much larger parts.”
In addition to the new printers, Formlabs also announced a new material – Draft Resin. The new material can print at 300 microns layer lines, and is three to four times faster than other standard resins, the company said.
Founded in 2011 out of MIT, the Somerville, Mass-based company now employs more than 500 people across the U.S., Hungary, Germany, Japan, and China. Beyond its Form family of printers, the company recently introduced its Form Cell concept, where multiple Form printers are connected together, and along with a robotic arm, can help companies scale up and optimize their manufacturing processes.
The Form Cell concept isn’t necessarily about making products quicker, but rather to help companies address labor costs. “A lot of people were talking about print speed, and they said that was the key to reducing costs for 3D printing,” said Lobovsky. “But we looked at what high volume usage looked like, and we found that labor is a bigger factor in the cost, especially when you’re already using a low cost system like Form 2. So we thought it was more important to focus on automation to reduce the labor costs involved.”
Customers expand beyond prototyping
Lobovsky said the majority of Formlabs’ customers are in the engineering, product design, and manufacturing, whether they are prototyping new products or creating things like jigs or fixtures for a manufacturing line. In addition, customers in health care, particularly dentistry, have used Formlabs printers to produce things like dentures, surgical guides, aligner models, and more.
Formlabs has worked with small, midsize and large manufacturers – for example, Gillette has teamed up with them to pilot its Razor Maker concept, a platform that lets customers create customized 3D printed razor handles, with the choice of more than 48 different designs, colors, and the ability to add custom text.
Last August, the company raised $15 million in its latest funding round (it’s raised more than $100 million total), bringing its valuation to more than $1 billion.
“I don’t know if I thought a lot about being the CEO of a billion-dollar company,” said Lobovsky. “I’ve always just wanted to grow it to be as big and impactful as it could be. It just feels like another step along the way.”