Update – 20th May 2015: Having spent a good 18 months using a Form1/ 1+ I thought it’s about time I updated my thoughts on the device. In the 18 months we have been using a Form1 we have had the machine replaced twice. Our original Form1 developed issues where the parts had rough surfaces and what appeared to be thin fins growing on the part. From what I read this was related to Laser issues, even though FormLabs.
The machine was eventually replaced after months of trouble shooting. We wasted considerable time and resin going through the various tests and eventually FormLabs agreed to replace the machine, as long as we would pay for shipping it to and and from America. The replacement Form1+ was a much better machine but within four months the same problems appeared. Again the trouble shooting process started and after months of no improvements after checking, cleaning and even replacing a mirror that appeared to have absolutely nothing wrong with it FormLabs agreed to replace the machine, again as long as we paid the very expensive shipping bill. Everything I read pointed to a laser issue however FormLabs insisted it was an optical path problem.
Would I recommend this machine? When it is working it prints great parts but unless you’re prepared to have it replaced every 6 months its a tough sell unless you are located in the USA so return shipments don’t cost a small fortune.
The Form1 has to be the most anticipated product I have back on kickstarter to date. I don’t think I even let the video finish before I was punching in my (well works really) credit card details. And as it turns out it’s also one of the most awesome things that I have backed from kickstarter and we’ve back quite a few projects! We actually have a whole shelf filled with stuff from Kickstarter that we never use… so its great to get something in the mail that I can see myself using on a regular basis.
If you have no idea what I am talking about, here’s a quick run down. The Form1 is a low cost high resolution 3d printer that was launched on Kickstarter back in November 2012. It smashed its funding goal by raising almost three million dollars. Well above the target of 200k.
Unlike most lost cost 3d printers on the market that extrude layers of molten plastic to build parts in a process called Fused Deposition Modelling (FDM), the Form1 uses a process called stereolithography (SLA) to harden a UV cured resin. SLA is generally associated with high end commercial 3d printers and before the Form1 came into light, SLA has been a fairly expensive technology due to the high cost of accuracy required by to cure the resin. Formlabs managed to build a low costs SLA 3D printer by using a cheap components such as a laser from a Blu-ray player, brilliant really! The advantaged of SLA of FDM is that you can print very high resolution and detailed parts which are much more complex than FDM however you’re using a UV cured resin so the plastic properties are not as good as printing with the real thing. Due to these factors, SLA 3D prints are usually used for fit and finish prototypes as opposed to parts which may be used or sold as a finish object. UV cured resins are easy to sand and work with and can be painted to achieve realistic looking finishes.
So back to the story. I’ve been waiting over a year for this machine which has felt like an eternity, especially when I got to see one in the flesh at CES in Jan 2013. On their Kickstarter pages they hoped to be able to deliver machines around March 2013 so waiting nine months has felt like an eternity.
But its been worth the wait. The Form1 is a beautifully design machine, inside and out.
The guys at Form1 are a very resourceful bunch. Even the packaging looks innovative and well thought out. The out of box experience is pretty sweet for such a machine. The printer itself comes suspending by two plastic sheets inside a durable box. It’s kind of like a plastic hammock that holds it away from the edges in case the box is dropped. And it must work as it kept our Form1 safe all the way from the US to Australia. Very different and also quite ingenious as it cuts down on waste and nasty materials which is a bonus. FormLabs recommend holding on to the box in case you need to send it back for servicing. The branding is slick and in line with everything else these guys do.
I built a few 3d printers kits and using so called “out of the box” machines, and I can say nothing I’ve seen comes close to the Form1. Unbox, plugin, pour in the resin and print! It really was that simple. No calibration, no leveling a print bed, no procedures for installing material cartridges etc. Simple. Although on the first print, the tilting of the resin tray nearly made the resin flow over the edge as our table wasn’t quite level but a few business cards under the feet fixed that. Note to FormLabs, perhaps put a spirit level bubble thingy on your next machine so you know its level before using it.
It thing looks slick! It’s more refined and better finished then some high end commercial machines I’ve seen and it makes the low end FDM machines look like toys. Good material selection and finishing give the machine a very high quality feel. The orange laser chamber on our machine didn’t line up perfectly with the base but it’s that minimal I doubt anyone would notice. The design is simple and functional and the one button interface is all you need.
Having used a few 3d printers in my time I have seen some good processing software and some bad. PreForm as the software is called is good. The interface is simple and functional and does all you need it to. Formlabs have issued a few updates since it’s first release so it’s improved a lot from the initial version but from what I have seen the software has had the same amount of attention applied to it as the printer. It’s super easy to use and renders the models well on screen. One thing I would prefer is if they used the middle mouse button to rotate parts instead of the right but that’s just because I’m used to CAD software such as Solidworks. Although considering Industrial designer are a prime focus for these machines it’s weird they went for a non standard button allocation?
The first thing you will notice is how quiet this thing is… Onces it’s past it’s first few layers the only noise you hear is the resin tray tilting between layers and that is barely noticeable. Print speeds are not that fast but in my testing they are compatible to most FDM printers and can be faster on bigger part, it all depends on geometry.
The down side to SLA printing is that you need to remove any excess resin with Isopropanol (IPA) once the part has finished printing and a little post UV exposure makes sure the part is completely set. Its not difficult but and can be a little messy and the fumes from IPA are pretty wicked. If your printing with support you also need to manually snap of the support structure as its printed from the same material as the part. Any marks left on the part can easily be sanded off. Its actually easier than removing support from an FDM part and is much easier to sand afterwards.
Print quality is pretty good, especially for complex geometry. I design a part a while ago after seeing the cool stuff Bathsheba produces and I was never able to get a successful print off an FDM machine. Even when using two print heads it still had trouble. However first print on the Form1 produced the part without a glitch.
The Form1 is a very nice machine. I’ve only printed a handful of parts but I have not had one fail yet (well apart from when I didn’t have enough resin in the tank but that was my fault). It’s super easy to use and produces good parts. As stated by the guys who developed the machine, its really a 3D Printer for designers and engineers. The main use of the machine I see if for prototyping parts to assist in speeding up the design process. Its also great for validating designs before committing to tooling. The post print clean up and chemicals means this machine will most likely be found in design labs, and workshops more so than on your kitchen table however I am sure there are lots of hobbyists who won’t mind it sitting there at all. Unfortunately I don’t see a lot of schools using the machines due to the chemicals which is a shame as it would be perfect for kids to learn about the technology. However for an industrial designer like myself its the perfect machine for prototyping small parts. Now if only FormLabs will release a bigger version so I can print bigger parts!