Formlabs rolls out a retooled 3-D printer

23 Sep 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Formlabs Tips Hi-Res ‘Form 2’ 3D Printer.

Formlabs chief executive Max Lobovsky says that his Somerville startup is working hard to make printing 3-D objects more like printing out a two-dimensional document. Formlabs, the designer and manufacturer of stereolithography (SLA) 3D-printing systems including the Form 1+, today announced the launch of Form 2, the company’s second-generation high-resolution, desktop SLA 3D printer.

It’s been several years since Formlabs broke the old Kickstarter funding record (raising nearly $3 million of its $100,000 goal) by offering an easy-to-use 3D printer for the mainstream crowd.It’s estimated that the 3D printing market will grow to $16.2 billion by 2018, a compounded annual growth rate of 45.7 percent over the five-year period. The company’s new Form 2 printer, unveiled Tuesday at an event at the Museum of Science, tries to simplify 3-D printing in several ways: The software automatically arranges multiple items and the necessary support structures to hold them; files can be sent to print over Wi-Fi; the printer uses resin in cartridges, rather than requiring users to refill a reservoir with drippy bottles; and there’s a Web-based view of the machine’s status, including the jobs waiting to be printed. The company is focused on making 3D printers that are easy to use and that rely on high-end lasers to craft objects from resin. “In many ways, 3D printing technology is following a similar path to the desktop computer,” Formlabs cofounder Max Lobovsky in a statement. “It started with mainframes, was adopted by the hobbyist and then evolved into the powerful desktop machines everyone uses today.” Mashable reports that the new printer is simpler to operate than the previous version, but that it still takes hours to create printed objects. The Form 2 brings bigger prints, connected capabilities, and a simplified, intuitive printing experience to artists, engineers, product designers, and other professionals.

This 3D printer could make amazingly detailed models using lasers and resin, a process that was at once exhilarating and, thanks to the curing process, kind of gross. But a small company from Massachusetts called Formlabs has spent the last few years quietly (to most of the world) making one of the best desktop printers on the market, balancing high quality with relatively low cost. One company eagerly looking to capture more of this market share is Formlabs, and today it has launched a $3,499 next-generation 3D printer that offers better resolution, bigger prints, improved connectivity, and more. Nearly four years ago, Formlabs broke onto the scene with a Kickstarter campaign where it raised over $2.9 million to bring its Form 1 printer to the market.

This time, the company has rebuilt its product from the ground up, something Formlabs cofounder Maxim Lobovsky said they’ve always dreamed of doing. Lobovsky acknowledged the market for 3-D printers has “gotten more competitive, with way more players” than when the company was founded in 2011, by a trio of MIT students and alumni. Instead of building objects by applying small amounts of plastic layer by layer, Formlabs’ printers use a process called stereolithography, during which a laser gets shined into a bath of liquid photopolymer, or resin, curing it into a solid object bit by bit. He said there is still “a lot more to invent in 3-D printing.” Analyst Terry Wohlers of Wohlers Associates said Formlabs’ devices compete with those made by 3D Systems, Carima, DWS Systems, EnvisionTEC, and Stratasys.

Earlier this month, Hewlett-Packard HPQ -3.03% revealed that it will make 3D printing a top priority after the company splits into two separate businesses on November 1. A new sliding peel mechanism, wiper, and heated resin tank reduces wear on the resin tank, improves print consistency by removing particles from the build area, and maintains consistent internal temperature for optimal print conditions.

It’s about 40 percent bigger, the laser is more powerful for higher-quality prints, and it has a new cleaning system (kind of like a windshield wiper) so the plastic resin doesn’t harden to the machine overtime. That’s what this machine [the Form 2] is.” When you handle some of the objects that have been output from the device, which in person is not much bigger than a microwave oven turned on its side, the intricate detail and sturdiness of the printed objects is remarkable. Each printer includes a one-year warranty, as well as a copy of the company’s PreForm software, one liter of resin for printing, and a finish kit for post-processing needs. One is a new lock-and-load printer cartridge system that works much more like a traditional 2D printer, and the other is an added capacitive touchscreen on the front of the printer so you can see the progress of your prints at a glance. The approachability of 3D printing might be increasing at what feels like a snail’s pace, but dozens of startups were showcasing printers half the price or cheaper than what Formlabs offers at CES this year.

When Formlabs co-founder Max Lobovsky showed us the original Form 1 at CES in 2013, he called it “the first professional-quality machine that’s below $10,000.” The Form 1 was capable of printing objects at four times the resolution of conventional desktop printers of that era for tens of thousands of dollars less.

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