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?

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