FormLabs has gone live with their Form 1 3D printer this morning and the Kickstarter campaign they also launched at the same time has already surpassed its goal. This indicates that the hype they have conjured up is now metrialising into real money.
The keen early-adopters can buy a machine via Kickstarter for US$2299. Obviously this is an introductionary price, but it places it right in between FDM 3D printers like Ultimaker and Makerbot. The printer system is based on stereolithography (SLA) whereby a resin gets solidified layer per layer with light. The light source in the case of Formlabs is a laser that they can move around by tilting mirrors.. The reason why their machine is so affordable is because they use a laser that Sony have developed for BluRay. A part that normally cost thousands now only cost $10 and slashing the cost for the printer at the same time.
The specs for this machine are a build volume of 125 x 125 x 165mm and a layer minimum of 25 microns. A smallish build volume, but a very impressive layer thickness.
Some issues that FormLabs will have to overcome before they really can compete with FDM machines as far as we see it are descibed below.
The resin for this machine would cost about US$0.13 per cubic centimeter [ref]. While ABS costs US$0.03 – US$0.04 per cubic centimeter [ref]. So from a pure material point of view, your print is about 4 times as expensive.
Durablility of parts
Generally, resin cured prints are not as durable as ABS or PLA prints. The amazing resolution is a good thing to have if you have a need for pieces that need to look pretty but don’t have to perform
The Formlabs FAQ page tells us that the rook part they have printed took 2 hours to print.[ref]. The rook piece is quite a tiny piece and would probably have taken about half that time to print on a FDM printer.
One thing that strikes us as a little odd is that they use Kickstarter to fund the sale of their machines. Or at least, that is what many assume.
Formlabs have already scooped up $500k in investment capital [ref] and were set for funding to increase to $1.5mil. It is more likely that they use Kickstarter as a marketing tool to spread the word.
In any case, FormLabs will send ripples through the 3D printing world, both for high end and low end printer manufacturers. [ref]
It looks like the battle for market share is starting to heat up!