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. With rapid growth, Formlabs now have offices in America, Germany, Japan, China, Singapore and Hungary.
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.
Stereolithography (SLA) is one of the oldest 3D printing methods around, fusing resin into solid objects through the use of a laser. It has a range of applications spanning industries from the automotive market to the medical market. It is a highly flexible process, clean and quick. All materials used are transferred to the part with any excess used in subsequent layers ensuring no wastage. SLA printing materials are wide ranging and resilient, allowing for end use parts to be created in a large number of design options.
Not only did the Form 1 deliver on its promise of desktop printer size, making the process much easier to find space for, it also made it affordable to the general user. The initial cost of an SLA 3D printer was now not much more than the price of a high-end desktop PC.
The 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 meet demand in 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+, Form 2, Form 3 and Form 3L and PreForm software. Each printer 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%. They did all of this 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. The Fuse 1 is its first selective sintering printer, which uses a laser to form parts by melting nylon powder.
Going back to its roots, it has since developed the Formlabs Form 3 and the Formlabs Form 3L. Utilising Low Force Stereolithography (LFS) technology, the Form 3 produces the smoothest finish yet with fewer supports required than ever before. The Form 3L takes the principles behind earlier machines and scales them up. The 3L allows for a build volume of up to 5x greater than that of the Form 1, 2 and 3, whilst still maintaining a relatively compact size.
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 3 and Form 3L. 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.
We also stock a range of Formlabs resins of both the engineering and standard capabilities. Engineering resins include functionalities such as elasticity, rigidity, durability, flexibility and more. The standard resins can be purchased in a range of colours including black, white, clear and grey. A colour kit of cyan, magenta, yellow, black and white can also be purchased in order to create bespoke colour mixes for your designs.
Although stereolithography was first introduced more than a quarter of a century ago, it was only with Formlabs’ Form 2 that we feel ready to include it in our extensive line-up of 3D printing solutions. With the release of the Form 3 and 3L we are more confident than ever in our ability to supply only the very best in 3D printing technology. We have seen many technologies come and go, but SLA has staying power and broad industry support suggesting it will withstand the test of time. . We are proud to give it Laser Lines’ stamp of approval.
Call us on 01295 672599 or email firstname.lastname@example.org support, or further information on how Formlabs products could save your business time and money.