When MIT Media Lab introduced a class called “How to make (almost) anything”, its lecturers would never have guessed that three students would take them literally. It’s where Maxim Lobovsky, Natan Linder and David Cranor first met, and from where they went on to establish Formlabs.
Anything but conventional, they founded the Massachusetts-based company in September 2011, on the back of a high-profile Kickstarter campaign. Within a year they had attracted $3m in funding from more than 2000 backers. Alongside the usual roster of small-scale hobby investors, their pitch caught the eye of tech’s biggest names. Lotus Software founder Mitch Kapor, Sony advisor Joi Ito and the Innovation Endeavors fund founded by former Google chairman Eric Schmidt, each took a stake.
It was clear from the start that Formlabs’ offering was not merely radical: it also had the potential to change the market for 3D printing, forever.
Rapid investment in SLA technology
Formlabs immediately set about fulfilling the promise of its campaign, which had been to shrink the mechanics of stereolithography until they could be accommodated in a desktop printer. The result was the Form 1. Not only did it make the process easier to find space for; it also made it affordable, bringing down the initial outlay to not much more than the price of a high-end desktop PC.
Form 1 shipped in May 2013, and immediately validated the faith of those early investors. Within five months, Formlabs had attracted a further $19m of financing, topped up by an additional $35m in 2016 and $30m in 2018. By then, its growing range of products had proven definitively that the previously-untapped market for desktop stereolithography was there for the taking.
As well as reducing the price of stereolithographic printing, the compact Form 1 had at last made it possible for companies, workshops and even schools to accommodate several printers where previously they might have had only one. The result was a significant improvement in throughput, as multiple production lines could be run in parallel, saving users from waiting for previous jobs to complete.
Orders came in at an impressive rate, and Formlabs set up a second headquarters to serve Europe. As it inked deals with distributors in ten countries as far apart as Turkey and Denmark, Formlabs Europe general manager, Michael Sorkin, explained to TCT Magazine how “we have doubled the size of our EU staff and, in just six months, will have four times the number of employees as we started [with].”
Larger build volumes in a compact chassis
With money, staff and a distribution network up and running, Formlabs followed up the Form 1 with the 1+ and Form 2. Each iteration increased the overall part production speed and made the device easier to use. By the time Form 2 had shipped, it had switched to using cartridges rather than screw-cap bottles for filling the printer’s liquid resin tank, and increased the maximum build volume by more than 40% while keeping a handle on one of the printer’s key selling points: its own chassis size.
But Formlabs wasn’t content to confine itself to stereolithography. It extended its expertise in laser-based fabrication to develop the Fuse 1, its first selective sintering printer, which uses a laser to form parts by melting nylon powder.
Intuitive 3D printing
Speaking in Formlabs original promotional video for its Kickstarter campaign, SolidWorks founder Jon Hirschtick credited it with taking us “a giant step closer to the engineer’s dream, which is routine 3D printing the way they’d print on paper”.
We agree, which is why we are proud to carry its latest-generation printer, Form 2. The most advanced SLA printer yet developed, it provides an end-to-end production platform, and is bundled with the Formlabs Finish Kit for cleaning and refining any finished part.
Although stereolithography was first introduced more than a quarter of a century ago, it’s now only with Formlabs’ Form 2 that we feel ready to include it in our extensive line-up of 3D printing solutions. We’ve seen many technologies come and go, but SLA has staying power and broad industry support. We are proud to give it Laser Lines’ stamp of approval.