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Formlabs Gets Into Manufacturing in Three Ways

 The Formlabs Fuse 1 SLS nylon 3D printer

The Formlabs Fuse 1 SLS nylon 3D printer

You couldn’t get a company farther from its roots than Formlabs has progressed. 

We had a visit with the company, and spoke to their CEO, Max Lobobsky at CES about the changes the company has undergone from its humble beginnings in a Kickstarter launch years ago, where they attempted to address the then-burgeoning world of desktop 3D printing. 

Since then, consumer interest in desktop 3D printing has abated considerably, forcing 3D printer manufacturers to shift their focus elsewhere. And wow, has Formlabs taken this strategy to heart. 

Yes, they still sell the versatile Form 2, but it seems they now have additional goals that center on industrial markets. This is evident in three developments they’ve recently undertaken. 

 The hoppers on the rear of the Form Cell where completed prints are picked up

The hoppers on the rear of the Form Cell where completed prints are picked up

The first is the Form Cell, a system for automating 3D printing. Essentially it is a robotic and software system that manages a supply of print plates for Form 2’s. Here you can see the input hopper on the Form Cell, where they are taken to and from participating Form 2 3D printers as print requests arrive and prints complete. 

 Fresh print plates ready to roll - literally - on the Form Cell 3D printing automation system

Fresh print plates ready to roll - literally - on the Form Cell 3D printing automation system

This device transforms the otherwise standalone prototyping-ready Form 2 into a small manufacturing system, capable of punching out as many objects as you want. 

The second development was the Fuse 1 SLS 3D printer (shown at top), which can produce nylon parts at a very low cost. It’s not a lot different from far more expensive systems that have been available for years from other vendors, but is priced in a very different way: only USD$20K. 

 A very cool sample print from the Formlabs Form 1 SLS 3D printer

A very cool sample print from the Formlabs Form 1 SLS 3D printer

This device produces objects that can be considered production-ready, as the nylon material is far stronger than anything you’d get from SLA machines, and frequently from plastic extrusion machines as well. 

 Personalized silicone earbuds produced by Formlabs and 3Shape

Personalized silicone earbuds produced by Formlabs and 3Shape

Finally, Formlabs demonstrated an interesting manufacturing partnership at CES. With 3Shape, a vendor of 3D scanning services, they’ve organized a system in which a customer can have their ear 3D scanned using a specialized handheld 3D scanner. This 3D scan is then digitally transformed into an earbud 3D model, which is then 3D printed on Formlabs 3D printing equipment. 

 The process 3Shape and Formlabs use to create personalized earbuds, from left to right

The process 3Shape and Formlabs use to create personalized earbuds, from left to right

Actually, they 3D print a mold into which body-safe silicone is injected to form the final earbud. I presume this will persist until Formlabs invents a resin that can perform in a similar manner. 

The idea here is to produce a highly customized earbud that matches only the customer. In fact, only one of the customer’s ears. This concept puts several technologies and services into a unified series to create a usable product for a customer. 

 The 3Shape 3D ear scanner

The 3Shape 3D ear scanner

While it’s merely a demonstration, one could say the same thing about the Form Cell and the Fuse 1. These are going to be real products, and so is the mass customization concept from Formlabs. 

 The tip of the 3Shape ear 3D scanner, the part that gets inserted!

The tip of the 3Shape ear 3D scanner, the part that gets inserted!

There are countless examples of personally customizable items possible and by demonstrating this concept, Formlabs could attract new industries to the use of 3D printing. 

And for us, this means we could gain access to a number of customizable products we could never have imagined. 

What do all of these announcements mean? To me it says that Formlabs has very strongly shifted towards business as its primary market for the future. We’ll see them develop even better machines and, more importantly, find practical ways for them to be used by business. 

Via Formlabs

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