Friday, 28 September 2012

FormLabs Day 2 646 backers, $924,858, 10 times target, 28 days to go

The story surrounding the launch of FormLabs, a Kickstarter funded startup who are aiming to bring low cost stereolithography to the desktop, needs updating. The founders' goal of $100K funding in 30 days was achieved in just 2.5 hours! One day later they now have 646 backers, $924,858 and still 28 days to go.

Watch the incredible success here

Why the great interest? Here's my take:
  1. There is a magic about stereolithography, the emergence of a structured object from a liquid, that is unique and mesmerizing 
  2. Stereolithography yields orders of magnitude finer results in any 3D Print
  3. The quality is suitable for professional 3D designers
  4. FormLabs have brought the price of this capability down to the 'prosumer' level, on the desktop, at about the cost of an Apple Mac Pro laptop .... which just happens to be another piece of kit which the same professionals already own and use in their 3D design work
  5. Before FormLabs, 3D design professionals wanting to 'print' their creations, either could not afford to buy a machine, or would have to use a bureau service
  6. Time and money for any professional is sub-optimal
  7. Many professionals thinking about buying a 3D printer would not bother with the hobby-end plastic-filament lower-resolution techniques, but would jump at the chance of owning their own stereolithography machine (even if they also continue to use pro-bureaus for larger prints or special materials)
  8. The price level of the Form-1 printer will also appeal to a subset of the much much larger 'Maker' community
  9. 3D Printing is an exciting space, and everyone wants a printer for 'instant' gratification
  10. Every school and college is also a market for FormLabs at this price point
  11. Investor excitement about FormLabs may also be due to the expiration of controlling patents, and this will lead others to be going down this path
Good luck FormLabs

Thursday, 27 September 2012

Makers will love to 3D Print with Wood

As FormLabs have shown, Fused Deposition Modelling in which a filament of plastic is extruded layer by layer to make up a 3D Print, is not the most fine-grained approach. Compared to stereolithography FDM is positively rough. Even on the most expensive printers it is possible to see the grain created by each layer, and it is quite marked on the low-end printers. But "grain" may be just what the average Maker wants if they are printing in wood.

Yes, it is now possible to source FDM filament with wood as the primary material. The new material, called LAYWOO-D3 is made from 40% recycled wood, along with binding polymers to hold it together. It’s loaded into a 3D printer as a thin filament, and when printing is complete, it forms a wooden surface not dissimilar from MDF Medium-Density Fiberboard.

The supplier says that LAYWOO-D3 "Allows you to print wooden-like objects with annual rings." I think future refinements of such a material will appeal to many Makers, especially if it can take a polished surface.

Wednesday, 26 September 2012

FormLabs brings stereolithography to the desktop

FormLabs has come out of stealth with an attractive web site and video, following a funding round on KickStarter. At time of writing, FormLabs has attracted 116 backers and $150,698 funding, above their goal of $100K and still with 29 days to go. In fact, they reached their goal in just 2.5 hours!

The company's compelling vision aims to bring the high resolution possible with stereolithography to the professional designer. The founders claim that extruded plastic (FDM) of low-end printers (which dominant the 'hobbyist' and 'maker' end of the market) simply cannot create the quality surface finish and repeatability necessary for professional work. At the same time, FormLabs are significantly lowering the cost of entry to the higher quality possible with established stereolithography processes.

The company says that "A key advantage of the FormLabs software is the ability to precisely generate thin, breakable support structures that serve their purpose during printing but are easily removed afterward. Test users have delightfully compared this part removal to a feeling almost like separating Velcro. You can finally print those designs with crazy overhangs!"

Facts: a layer could be as thin as 25 microns. As Fabaloo reports this is as 10-20x better than typical personal 3D printers and even 4x better than MakerBot's latest high resolution Replicator 2.

There have been amazing videos on YouTube before of DIY and homemade high resolution stereolithography. To our knowledge there is no connection between this and FormLabs.

Pre-orders can be submitted on Kickstarter.

Note - Patents in this area are owned by 3DSystems Inc. There is a simplicity and beauty to the technique which could be easy to replicate. Have patents expired? Have FormLabs licensed any required IP, or have they found a new approach which can itself be protected by new patents?

3DPrintShow London 2012: Is the world about to change again?

The WWW changed the world in the 1990s. Is the world about to change again? The organisers of the first 3DPrintShow London 2012 appear to think so. Offering a live show, seminars, workshops, a 3DP art gallery and full exhibitor space, the event looks set to further raise the profile of the many innovations which some commentators say add to a new industrial revolution. 

The companies taking part in the London 3DPrintShow include [links lead to stories that feature these companies] MakerBot Industries, 3DSystems, Objet, EOS, i.Materialise, Ultimaker, Sculteo, Digital Forming, Boeing, Autodesk, PrintrBot and Inition .... an eclectic mix of technologies and innovators. Together they are driving a shift in how we think about the tangible intersection of the 'digital' and the 'material'.

The widely anticipated event is scheduled for 19-21 October, at The Brewery, London.  The organizers expect around 4,500 visitors to pass through the doors.

Is this the new manufacturing which the UK so desperately needs? Can the 3D printing meme  - a broad church and umbrella term - unite major manufacturers, software developers, design studios, architects, product designers and artists and spawn new and vibrant digital/material ecosystems?

Grab yourself a ticket and come find out!

Wednesday, 5 September 2012

Shapeways Inspires! Video

An inspiring video from Shapeways needs to be watched by everyone interested in 3D Printing. Let's let it speak for itself:

Tuesday, 4 September 2012

3D printed Fisher Price toy records by fred27 illustrates the 3D printing disruption

In a related post we saw how the heart of the innovation possibility with 3D printing lies not in the printer (although the devices are incredible feats of engineering themselves) but with the software. In that story, sophisticated software was used to insert 'moving joints' into a CAD model of a figure, which could then be printed out as a poseable toy.

Another story similar to this caught our attention. It is striking because the inventor fred27 is not part of some advanced computer science group, but just a talented engineer with some software development skills. What fred27 has done is remarkable and beautiful.

Remember those plastic disks that played tunes on Fisher Price toy record players? Fred has written a software application that lets anyone directly enter a tune and then generate a CAD model of the disk required to play it! A 3D printer then simply materializes the object. What's striking about this is that:

1. Instead of focusing on a single object fred27 identified an entire object class: toy records
2. He then developed software to mass customize the object class to create object instances, in this case by adding the bumps required to play a specific tune
3. Released his software and process on the Web for others to use and adapt
4. Is selling 3D printed records on Shapeways for those who just prefer to buy

The result is that Fisher Price may lose the ability to sell records, even if they retain the sales of players. And this is surely an effective demonstration of the power of 3D printing as a disruptive technology. Would Fisher Price, for example, have made a record of Stairway to Heaven? fred27 did! And what kid would not like to make their own records. Star Wars anyone?

Here's an idea for Fisher Price: how about bundling fred27's software with an easy link to Shapeways with every player sold? I'm sure fred27 has thought about the commercial possibilities as well.