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Formlabs Form 1 3D printer
The unmistakable look of the Form 1 is form and function in harmony, explained designer Yoav Reches
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3D CAD of Robert Vignone's first 3D print
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The result of Robert's 1st print on Form1
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Introducing the Form 1 FormLabs - High Resolution Desktop 3D Printer
Formlabs, associate Massachusetts Institute of Technology Media Labs spin-out and maker of the high resolution type one 3D printer -- that came abreast of Kickstarter (where it force in nearly $3 million in crowdfunding) — has closed a $19 million Series A, diode by DFJ Growth. Pitango capital and Innovation Endeavors conjointly participated within the spherical, at the side of "many returning angel investors".
The funding spherical provides Formlabs extended runway to stay building out a business, a couple of months when rival desktop 3D printer maker Makerbot was nonheritable by 3D industrial printing and producing company Stratasys for $403 million. Makerbot currently operates as a subsidiary of Stratasys.
Formlabs, that was supported in 2011, aforementioned it'll be victimisation the funding to expand its R&D, grow its international client support and pairing, and develop new materials to print with. software system development is another focus: Formlabs aforementioned nowadays it plans to launch version one.0 of its PreForm 3D model-to-3D-print software system before long.
Expansion is additionally on the cards for its own production facility, with the 3D printer maker within the inside of entering into associate eleven,000 squarefoot facility in Somerville, Massachusetts.
Formlabs antecedently raised $1.8 million in seed funding, before taking its example to Kickstarter and propulsion in enough money to travel into production. One year when its Kickstarter campaign, it aforementioned it's shipped quite 900 of its 3D printers to backers round the world, and is approaching fulfillment of all the initial Kickstarter campaign rewards.
In 2012, this orange cube atop an aluminium box appeared on Kickstarter and 3D printing world went bananas. This beautiful looking machine was old school factory floor meets minimalist Apple-esque design and it promised to be “An affordable, professional 3D printer”. Its name was Form 1 and it came from a company formed out of the MIT Media Lab, Formlabs.
Though desktop stereolithography was new on the market, Formlabs co-founder Maxim Lobovsky’s history with the technology goes way back.
“My father worked at AlliedSignal, which became Honeywell - a conglomerate in industrial engineering - they had some of the earliest stereolithography machines. The earliest part I saw was in 1996 when I was just 9,” explained Max, who launched the company at just 23. “One particular project they were working on was underwater turbines. They were making these really interesting parts and I remember him explaining to me why this process was important; you could make parts with internal structures that you couldn’t manufacture in any other way, I didn’t completely understand but some of it went in.”
Max has been involved in desktop 3D printing from day dot; before he went on to do his Masters at MIT he was working on Cornell and Hod Lipson’s Fab@Home project.
“I was thinking at that time about how to start a company around this new wave but I really had no idea how to do that. I’m glad I didn’t because the timing would not have been right. During my Masters I was working closely on the Fab Lab project with my professor Neil Gershenfeld, that kept me thinking and kept me passionate about the idea of bringing fabrication capabilities to a much wider range of people.”
While Max was working his way through one of the most notoriously difficult MS courses on the planet, desktop 3D printing was growing at a rate of knots; Ultimaker, MakerBot and 3D Systems had all released their first consumer machines within months of Max finishing up at the Media Lab.
“I’d been closely following all the different desktop 3D printer companies and it was pretty frustrating to watch them. To know a lot about the different high-end machines that existed and to know what they could do if they really thought about what to do and applied some serious engineering chops. I knew that there were approximately seven or eight different 3D printing processes and only one was available on the desktop. So, I sat down and really researched which other technology could make sense [to work on the desktop]. I came to the conclusion that you could make a really compelling stereolithography machine.”
Substance over style
With the idea of creating the ultimate desktop 3D printer, Max got together with fellow MIT Media Lab students David Cranor and Natan Linder to build a prototype device. Natan was also working on another suitably futuristic project called LuminAR - a robotic mixed reality interface, which looks like something straight from Tony Stark’s office.
On this project Linder was collaborating with an Industrial Designer and M.A. graduate of the Royal College of Art, Yoav Reches. At the time Reches was a visiting researcher at the MIT Fluid Interfaces Group but usually Yoav is based in London — TCT paid him a visit last month.
Set in a Victorian railway viaduct near Bethnal Green, amongst the lingering smell of grease and rubber coming the stereotypical railway arches businesses of automotive inclination, is a small studio of designers and artists – home to Yoav, the lead industrial designer at Formlabs.
“Natan asked me to do some sketches for this machine he was working on with Max and David. I didn’t hear for a while and presumed they’d gone with something else,” explained Reches. “Then a couple of months down the line I saw a presentation they’d done for some funding and it only contained my sketches, from there on in everything happened very quickly.”
Max, Natan and David had realised from an early stage that the design of the product was going to be key, other devices on the market often looked homemade and not something a designer would have on his/her desk.
“Product designers are often invited at the end of the process but with Formlabs I was highly involved from the start. I was involved in the mechanical systems, the design of everything a user touches. Everything visible went through me.”
As striking and recognisable as the machine is Yoav insists that the machine is “not about styling; nothing on the machine is there for style. Design and function must fit together”.
With great design, all made for manufacturing reasons, inevitably there comes imitation. The orange acrylic hood, there to make sure the resin doesn’t cure in ambient light, has now sprung up on several other desktop 3D printers — including one that doesn’t even use resin. Though the Form 1 looks like the kind of machine you’d expect from Apple, a lot of that came about through sheer necessity.
“With other consumer electronics on the market there’s a lot of injection moulding and therefore draft angles but, since we did not anticipate the demand on Kickstarter, we had to work with manufacturing methods that were not aimed at big numbers. Choosing to go with lower-end manufacturing processes - the machine is a lot of sheet bending and gluing - allowed us to keep very flat faces and therefore a very unique, clean design.”
“We were surprised when the first prototypes came to the office, although we rendered it many times we never realised that this marriage (between the aluminium base and orange hood) was going to have such a strong impact. The design means printers are starting to be relocated from dirty industrial environments to people’s homes. Not only are we able to offer 25 micron layer thickness to users but we can offer them a chamber that represents their creativity.”
Co-founder Max counts Yoav’s input as some of the most important in the process: “Both the industrial design, our approach to the product; the price point, our targets etc., they came from a lot of deliberate thinking earlier on; where should the market be? What are the right products? You can see in the rest of the desktop market there’s all kinds of things happening, people make huge machines, tiny machines, from $500 to $5000 — all kinds of chaos. We took a little bit more of a deliberate approach; If we fast-forward to a world where there is a 3D printer on every designer or engineer’s desktop, what will it look like? What will it do? What parts will it be printing off? We have been fairly straight towards that goal since the beginning.”
Kickstarting a business
Once the design was nailed and a first round of seed funding had been achieved the decision was made by Formlabs to launch their printer on Kickstarter. RepRap designs and the Printrbot had successful Kickstarter campaigns before Formlabs but as this machine was going to cost a minimum of $2,300 USD (£1,380, €1,675) and the company were asking for four times the funding of Printrbot, this was a huge risk.
The risk paid off as backers came in their droves to own the first desktop stereolithography 3D printer. Formlabs wanted $100,000 USD and 30 days later they were $55,000 USD shy of $3 million dollars.
The success was not without its drawbacks when you receive nearly 3,000 per cent of anticipated orders the task of manufacturing goes from manageable to mammoth. Though there were some delays all 2,068 backers have now had their pledges fulfilled.
There was another drawback to such success; it drew attention from competition and beady-eyed lawyers. Just weeks after Kickstarter funding period had finished 3D Systems filed a patent suit against Formlabs and Kickstarter.
“It (the success) certainly drew the attention of some of our competitors, we had to ramp up the manufacturing process and the team much quicker, which is always challenging. There are a couple of other products similar to ours coming to market; they have not been as successful as us and I don’t see them being threatened with any sort of legal action.” Explained a defiant Lobovsky. “The case is still on-going, I can’t tell you anything that isn’t public but there are some public filings that you can look into. We are continuing to ship our product and grow our business.”
At the back end of 2013 Formlabs grew further through a more traditional route than Kickstarter. Venture capital firms DJF Growth and Pitango, whose client list includes Twitter and SpaceX, were duly impressed with the business and obviously unperturbed by any lawsuit to invest $19 million into the business.
From silver screen to orange box
Formlabs pride themselves on an ever increasing number of users from varying spectrums; from medical to architectural; but there’s been one huge unexpected area of the business that has further enhanced not only their finances but image too, Hollywood.
Thanks in no small part to one man in particular, the Form 1 has become THE machine for digital artists working on movies and video games. That man is Robert Vignone, lead animator on the upcoming Dreamworks’ surefire hit How to Train Your Dragon 2.
“It must be every digital artist’s dream to create something on the computer and have it become tangible almost instantly,” Vignone told TCT. “It was 2009 when I had my first model 3D printed by a third party company on a very high-end machine. Once I held the model, I couldn’t wait for the day that I get to create that in my own home.”
“Fast forward to the end of 2012, I came across the Formlabs Kickstarter Project and their campaign sold me. One of the key selling points at the time for me was that the Form1 had so few moving parts. It has a non-intrusive design that is highly functional in addition to a decent build volume.”
Vignone’s prints made it onto the excellent Formlabs community support forums and from there onto just about every tradeshow stand Formlabs have had in the past 12 months.
“The computer graphics, movies and video games market has been a really big success, our product fits their needs perfectly,” said Lobovsky. “The high resolution of detail and because 3D printers haven’t traditionally been part of their process they need something that they can get started with really easily. “
Staying ahead of the pack
While several companies battle it out for supremacy in the FDM market, Formlabs were, until recently, relatively out on their own as the only desktop stereolithography machine.
At CES 2014 there was a slew of new SL machines attempting to carve out a slice of Formlabs’ considerable pie. Yet, it is testament to Formlabs’ deliberate thinking that the machine they put out there in 2012 is only just being caught up to now. While Lightforge, FSL3D and Old World Labs just start learning about the market, Formlabs are creating an ever-expanding user base and re-investing the money into R&D.
“The most important thing about seeing all these competitor startups is it has really renewed motivation and vigour, that lets us stay at the forefront. We started this and though we’re the only commercially available product on the market at the moment, the competition is coming. What we’ve done so far is just the tip of the iceberg, that gives us the fire to say ‘we’ll always have the most compelling product on the market and we’ll stay a product and engineering company.”
At this moment in time there are three resins available to print with on the Form 1, but it is the development in this area that could unlock other huge customer bases. Formlabs are rumoured to be developing a wax resin, this, coupled with the high resolution could see the massive jewellery market come to the Form 1, not just for prototyping, but for a short run bespoke manufacturing service.
Max remained purposefully vague when asked about this: “We’re working on everything; we’re working on machines, materials and software, our goal is to have the most innovative product on the market. Materials are a great part of the business because every new material opens up a new application or new use case for both existing and new customers. We’re in a great place; customers want us to develop more and more to sell them.”
Though the Form 1 remains relatively high-end; aimed at designers and engineers; there is scope in the future for Max and his ambitious team to grab onto an emerging consumer market.
“My personal interest harks back to experiences at Fab@Home and the Fab Lab, I want everybody to have access to this technology,’ enthused Lobovsky. “I don’t have any answers for you about what the killer app is but the more people that are using this powerful tool - that can be used in so many powerful ways - the better. We do want to achieve that dream of a 3D printer in every home but right now we’re just taking one huge step at a time.”