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CES: Formlabs Co-Founder Describes Their Stereolithographic 3D Printer (Video)

Roblimo posted about a year and a half ago | from the now-we-can-all-print-our-own-robot-servants-and-soldiers dept.

Patents 59

"It uses a totally different process called Stereolithography," says Max Lobovsky, while other low-cost 3D printers use a process called FDM (fused deposition modeling). Max explains the differences between the two processes in the video, but what it comes down to in the real world is that his process can "do features down to 0.3 mm," which, he says, is much finer than you can get with FDM. It also seems that structures made with Stereolithography can be made stronger and can be machined more accurately than those made by the FDM process. So this is another step toward fully-useful home fabrication of... almost anything. So Formlabs and the company's initial product, the Form 1, are interesting. And surely there will be other "consumer" Stereolithography machines in the market before long, and prices for both the machine and the chemicals they use as raw materials will come down. Meanwhile, a company called 3D Systems is suing Formlabs for patent infringement. This isn't a nickel and dime deal; Formlabs raised $2,945,885 through Kickstarter, says TechCrunch in a story about the suit. And since their 3D printer is an order of magnitude less expensive than earlier Stereolithography machines and the company's future looks bright, 3D Systems might be better off taking a stock settlement than going for cash. They've settled with other alleged infringers before, so there's a precedent for that idea. Suit or no suit, Formlabs is going forward, building and shipping 3D printers as fast as they can -- and President Obama mentioned 3D printing in his State of the Union speech last night, which will surely help boost the entire industry, including Formlabs.

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They use chemicals???!!!?! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42886863)

I applaud there honesty, but this really isn't going to fly. Where is the EPA when you need them?

Re:They use chemicals???!!!?! (0)

Megane (129182) | about a year and a half ago | (#42887115)

Do they use DMHO? [dhmo.org] That's one of the nastiest chemicals there is. And it's all over the place, too!

Re:They use chemicals???!!!?! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42887161)

More like they use chemicals that are designed to generate as much free radicals as possible when exposed to light.

Re:They use chemicals???!!!?! (1)

camperdave (969942) | about a year and a half ago | (#42888769)

I thought free radicals were formed when there is much darkness, and they attempt to expose things to the light.

Re:They use chemicals???!!!?! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42887273)

I got a chemistry major with that in college.

Re:They use chemicals???!!!?! (1)

i kan reed (749298) | about a year and a half ago | (#42887653)

You know what annoys me most about the whole dihydrogen monoxide thing is that it should really be called "hydrogen hydroxide" if you want to be realistic about the chemical structure of this so-called "universal solvent"

Stereolithography Definition (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42886939)

Stereolithography - A 3D printing process that uses a laser to solidify a pattern traced on pool of polymer resin.

Re:Stereolithography Definition (2)

K. S. Kyosuke (729550) | about a year and a half ago | (#42887429)

Stereolithography - A 3D printing process that uses a laser to solidify a pattern traced on pool of polymer resin.

Yeah, we've known this since 1990 or so, even from behind the Iron Curtain. This is some pretty old stuff.

But how much better (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42886943)

are the guns it prints?

Re:But how much better (1)

Man On Pink Corner (1089867) | about a year and a half ago | (#42887669)

Apparently they're getting pretty decent [nationalreview.com] . So I'm guessing nobody told Obama.

Re:But how much better (1)

Crudely_Indecent (739699) | about a year and a half ago | (#42887915)

He mentioned lost wax casting used in jewelry - but also used in many other things. If used to cast the frame of a firearm, the machining process to finish it would be minimal. The hardest part would be to determine the amount that the parts would shrink after being cast. I can see that being the most difficult part of lost wax casting a firearm frame.

Potentially, wax positives of firearms would be very good - but probably not ready to shoot without additional machining.

3d systems buys competition (1)

gl4ss (559668) | about a year and a half ago | (#42886955)

or sues them. or does both.

point is - there's no reason to expect that they would sell anything based on their patented tech for cheap. couple of the techniques are so simple(like this one) that litigation is what is keeping the competition at bay(also some aspects of fdm printing).

(also kickstarter had another similar machine already earlier though with much less fanfare.. afaik they managed to ship and not get sued)

Re:3d systems buys competition (5, Interesting)

Megane (129182) | about a year and a half ago | (#42887185)

As I understand it (this all hit the fan a few weeks ago, not sure why /. thinks it's worth an article right now), the patent expires later this year. Formlabs took money now (or rather a few months ago) for a product that would be delivered after the patent expired. So 3D Systems is suing them for getting the money now, before the patent expires.

In other words, Formlabs is being sued for patent infringement about a product that they haven't actually released yet.

Re:3d systems buys competition (4, Informative)

joss (1346) | about a year and a half ago | (#42888743)

Thing is, 3D Systems (specifically the companies founder, Chuck Hull), invented stereolithography and they have tons of patents in this area (I'm named as inventor on 22 of them.. I used to work for 3D Systems). So, if Formlabs can get out of this one as it's close to expiration date, there's more pain in the pipeline.

Re:3d systems buys competition (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42889359)

there's more pain in the pipeline

I wonder... Quadrophonic Lithography? Surely not Surround Lithography!

Re:3d systems buys competition (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42909879)

"Now I've got a Googlephonic Lithography machine with a Moonrock table. It's ok for trinkets, but you wouldn't want one in the office."

Re:3d systems buys competition (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42894259)

Why patent and not then not use the technology yourself as patent holder, was it just done to prevent other innovators join the competition? Patent = locking up the market.

Re:3d systems buys competition (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42894281)

Is there a reason why people buy products from sue-happy companies? (Like 3D Systems.)

Re:3d systems buys competition (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42898901)

So basicaly he's been sitting on these patents for 20 years, and never realised how huge a market home users might be. If you guys had tried looking away from the Xerox office buisness model of making 20 k machines and done what these guys did, your printers would be ubiquitous, we'd all have 3d printers on our desk making stuff. The masses pounding at your door to buy the latest resins for their affordable printers would look like walmart on black friday and Formlabs wouldn't be a threat.

I hope 3d systems serves as a cautionary tale to others who don't bother to plan for patent expiration.

.3mm must be wrong. (1)

wjsteele (255130) | about a year and a half ago | (#42887037)

The article mentions resolution down to .3mm... I'm sure he is incorrect here... the Form1 must be able to go much higher. Standard FDM printers like the Makerbot Replicator can easily do .1mm or even less. RepRaps get down below .02mm regularly.

Bill

Re:.3mm must be wrong. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42887193)

Their site says 300 microns in feature thickness and 25 microns in layer thickness, so 0.3mm is the largest of the two dimensions' max thickness.

Re:.3mm must be wrong. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42887207)

0.3mm is the minimum feature size, IE, it probably won't make a cylinder 0.3 mm diameter reliably. Then again there is no standard way of measuring minimum feature size in the 3d printing community.

Re:.3mm must be wrong. (2)

Guspaz (556486) | about a year and a half ago | (#42887223)

0.3mm is the dot size (minimum feature size). The equivalent measurement on the Makerbot Replicator 2 is 0.4mm. Both the Form 1 and he Replicator 2 can position the feature more precisely than that, but those measurements are how small the feature can be once positioned. Another relevant measure is the minimum layer thickness; 25 microns for the Form 1, 100 microns for the Replicator 2.

Re:.3mm must be wrong. (2)

mattmarlowe (694498) | about a year and a half ago | (#42887909)

If by feature size, one is referring to the nozzle width, than 0.4mm is just the default nozzle supplied by makerbot...I've heard that one can install smaller nozzles if needed...however, it usually doesn't make enough of a difference to be worth the longer print times.

As far as layer height goes, the most common printing resolution for a makerbot replicator 1 is 0.15-0.2mm and I've heard of a few users getting down to 0.05mm - however it usually isn't worthwhile, and 0.1mm is the lowest frequently used - and even 0.1mm is painful printing time wise. Honestly, I'm not sure there is much point in wanting better than 0.1mm as that is already an amazingly good detail level -- even 0.15mm produces great prints and I never see a point to want better.

My understanding about the advantage of the form1 is that printing time is significantly reduced for high resolution prints....whereas with traditional makerbots, the better the resolution the longer the print. Also, the formlabs allows printing of more complex models that a makerbot might have creating reliably. Still, it hardly seems worth the hassle in most cases.

I still see FDM printing as the way to go, the trick is just getting it more reliable with durable printers and at reasonable price while not going proprietery or overcharging for materials. Current makerbots are not really consumer market ready....they require lots of tweaking and maintenance.

Re:.3mm must be wrong. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42888365)

Think of parts that are typically machined, like precision bearings [wikipedia.org] .

ABEC-9 has a tolerance of 0.0012mm on inner ring eccentricity.
Printing useful parts of that type requires significantly higher resolutions than 0.05mm.
It's getting pretty close though - ABEC-1 is 0.0075mm.

Re:.3mm must be wrong. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42887997)

In TFV 25 micron was mentioned. Let's call that the "pixel". The minimum feature size that results in is 0.3mm, i.e a cluster of "pixels" at 25 micron. Makerbot sucks donkeyballs compared to that but has other redeeming properties. Basically you are comparing hot glue deposition with liquid film exposed by laser. Obviously a lithographic/light process is much more precise, perhaps order(s) of magnitude.

Re:.3mm must be wrong. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42887253)

There's a difference between "features" and "resolution". Features refers to the smallest structure possible, resolution refers to how smooth the end result ends up being. While the Form1 claims features down to 300 microns (.012 inches), its resolution is down to 25 microns (.001 inches), both far lower than resin extrusion models.

Re:.3mm must be wrong. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42887301)

Check the video, he mentions 25 micron (0.025mm) layer resolution and 0.3mm size for the smallest thing you can print.

Stereolithography has some caveats (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42887065)

While you can get AMAZING resolution with stereolithography and stronger parts than FDM, there are some caveats.

Namely, due to the chemistry of the photopolymerization process, stereolithography parts degrade over time, even faster if left in direct sunlight. This is why you never see stereolithographed parts used in critical applications.

But this is probably good enough for consumers.

Oh and due to patents, you'd be better off making your own 3d printer than buying this one at this stage. This printer is using decades old tech.

Re:Stereolithography has some caveats (1)

K. S. Kyosuke (729550) | about a year and a half ago | (#42887463)

Namely, due to the chemistry of the photopolymerization process, stereolithography parts degrade over time, even faster if left in direct sunlight. This is why you never see stereolithographed parts used in critical applications.

The process is good for making moulds of various sorts very quickly. Those don't have to last a long time. In fact, I believe that this was the original intent.

Re:Stereolithography has some caveats (3, Informative)

Rob Riggs (6418) | about a year and a half ago | (#42887787)

It's been over 20 years since I worked in a rapid prototyping shop. That's exactly what we did with most of the models. We made a latex mold and cast parts using various resins, typically polyurethane. The chemicals used in stereolithography, including the cleaning agents, were pretty nasty. I would not want that in my house. The urethane resin had to be degassed and the molds cured under pressure to prevent bubbling as the exothermic reaction took place. The commercial vacuum pumps, degassing chamber, compressors and pressure tanks were pretty expensive. Though that cost was nothing compared to the 3D Systems stereolithography machines. Those were upwards of USD500,000 and about USD80,000/yr in maintenance costs.

Re:Stereolithography has some caveats (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42888805)

My little friend, you have overlooked Economics 101:
In the pursuit of profit, a few early adopters must die.

Re:Stereolithography has some caveats (1)

WillAdams (45638) | about a year and a half ago | (#42890411)

Why not directly create the mold w/ a CNC mill like a Shapeoko?

http://www.shapeoko.com/ [shapeoko.com]

Opensource, inexpensive buy-in (a bit more than $300 to start), lots of documented upgrades (working on a driveshaft, double Makerslide X-axis and 1 meter Y-axis for mine).

All you need is a dust collector to keep things clean.

everything has a tradeoff (3, Informative)

SuperBanana (662181) | about a year and a half ago | (#42887079)

The tradeoffs with stereolithography: it requires toxic, expensive, smelly resins and can't do very enclosed spaces because the uncured resin would be trapped. The parts have to be washed - again, smelly/toxic chemicals are involved. The resins also usually have a limited lifespan, with some of them practically melting over time.

By the way: "machining" is not the proper term for anything in the class of Additive Manufacturing, which is what both FDM and stereolithography are.

Oh yeah, how about that resin (0)

okoskimi (878708) | about a year and a half ago | (#42887405)

From http://formlabs.com/pages/material [formlabs.com] (emphasis and reductio ad absurdum [wikipedia.org] style worst case scenarios added):

Long shelf life when not exposed to light (like vampires, it bursts into flame in direct sunlight?)

Safe to use in a controlled environment (a hermetically sealed laboratory?)

Low environmental impact with proper disposal (encased in lead and stored in an abandoned mine which is subsequently sealed with concrete?)

The qualifiers make it sound like a software EULA.

Re:everything has a tradeoff (4, Informative)

iammaxus (683241) | about a year and a half ago | (#42888727)

There are trade-offs with every 3D printing process and stereolithography is no exception. But, some of the points you mentioned are not true about modern stereolithography or the Form 1. In our case, the resin has almost zero smell (you've got to put your nose right up to it to smell anything) and is similar in toxicity to handling many household chemicals (think glues and paints). Our pricing on the material is on the order of half of what high end 3D printer companies charge ($150/liter vs $300/liter). -Max co-founder, Formlabs

Re:everything has a tradeoff (1)

afidel (530433) | about a year and a half ago | (#42890501)

Their process uses isopropyl alcohol and water and the setting/cleaning agents, hardly what I'd classify as nasty chemicals. My bigger problem is the $3,300 price for the printer and the $150/pint (looks like) resin cost and the UV sensitivity of the generated parts (though if they're temperature resistant they'd have some significant advantages versus other homebrew 3D printer systems).

Re:everything has a tradeoff (1)

drinkypoo (153816) | about a year and a half ago | (#42892221)

UV sensitivity is just not a big deal. Just paint. I like Krylon fusion for plastics, and you can use it as primer for a normal topcoat.

This is quite nice (1)

Hentes (2461350) | about a year and a half ago | (#42887155)

They seem to have managed to scale industrial-quality 3D printing down to a hobbyist level. What I find amazing in stereolithography is that it's precise enough to print fully assembled machinery that works out of the printer [youtube.com] .

The machine is cheap, but the material isn't (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42887459)

According to the linked wiki article, the low end is $80/L for the material. That's not as bad as ink; but it's still a bit pricey.

Re:The machine is cheap, but the material isn't (1)

i kan reed (749298) | about a year and a half ago | (#42887675)

Is it recyclable? If you can just melt it down and use it again, then that alleviates a lot of the cost.

Re:The machine is cheap, but the material isn't (2)

TheSkepticalOptimist (898384) | about a year and a half ago | (#42887807)

The problem is it isn't just going to be as easy to melt it down and reuse it. Material going into it has to be "processed" a certain way, its not like your printer is going to have a vat of "stuff" that you can just put old stuff back into.

Also, as with any plastic "stuff", recycled "stuff" isn't as good as the original "stuff", so chances are anything you print will not be readily turned back into raw materials, but will have to propagate down into lesser and lesser quality materials until it ultimately ends up in the landfill, you know, like what happens to ALL currently recycled plastics.

So, yes, the cost will be prohibitive and probably just easier to go to a store and by something.

Re:The machine is cheap, but the material isn't (1)

HornWumpus (783565) | about a year and a half ago | (#42888583)

Not so much melting down the part.

Can the fluid be used for more then one model?

The machine makes the model by exposing the parts it wants solidified and while slowly filling the tank. When it's done you've typically solidified a small % of the volume. Do you have to throw away the fluid or can you just top up the tank to the tune of the volume of the shape you printed?

How many uses? Light sensitivity? Dim room best? Dust issues? Skin oil?

What am I going to have to do? RTFA?

Re:The machine is cheap, but the material isn't (1)

Crudely_Indecent (739699) | about a year and a half ago | (#42888013)

If you are in need of parts that look better than stacked slices of cheese, then I'm sure the prices are acceptable.

Yes, propel the myth of home 3D printing... (2)

TheSkepticalOptimist (898384) | about a year and a half ago | (#42887775)

You do know that even when a decent 3D printer capable of producing anything of any quality comes out, the cost of the material to put into it will be prohibitive to a point where it is cheaper to go to Walmart and have it printed there...

Re:Yes, propel the myth of home 3D printing... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42888083)

Have you read the Ars Technica article [arstechnica.com] about how 2 guys an ocean apart managed to construct an artificial hand for a boy? Read it and then you'll know that decent 3D printers are available, are making useful stuff and will only get better. Enough with the skepticism, embrace your inner optimist ;)

Re:Yes, propel the myth of home 3D printing... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42891095)

$300 per liter for the resin. You won't be printing much at that price.

Re:Yes, propel the myth of home 3D printing... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42909925)

:-) Chuckle. Thanks!
Who is John Galt?
He's the guy running the 3D machine at Wal-Mart.

Re:Yes, propel the myth of home 3D printing... (1)

snappyjack (1147601) | about a year and a half ago | (#42910767)

That could be true, if for no other reason than the fact that the material will be proprietary. My lab uses an Objet Connex 500 (with a voxel size of .04mmx.04x.02), but 3.5 kg of basically any material runs over $1000. This is in no small part because we must buy cartridges directly from the distributor (think of somebody with one of those "free" Dell printers with $50 ink, except there's no other competition).

Wow. 0.3 mm? (1)

Dekker3D (989692) | about a year and a half ago | (#42887961)

So they say their process can reach 0.3 mm, and that's much finer than FDM ones can.

Reprap printers use FDM. Mine printed to a layer height of 0.1 mm right after calibration, with a 2-1 width-height ratio... when I get my broken Arduino replaced (it's been a month dammit), I'm going to check if I can get it down to 0.05 mm or so. Any lower is just insanely slow, but.. saying that 0.3 mm is special compared to FDM is just plain nonsense.

- Electronically/mechanically inexperienced, first-time Reprap builder

This tech is decades old (2)

MobyDisk (75490) | about a year and a half ago | (#42888051)

"It uses a totally different process called Stereolithography,"

I know all these terms like FDM and stereolithography are new here at Slashdot, but this tech isn't new at all. At my employer, the industrial designers engineers tell me how they replaced their stereolithography machines with FDM machines years ago.

"do features down to 0.3 mm," which, he says, is much finer than you can get with FDM

The Makerbot Replicator I have at home does 0.1mm out of the box. This is typical.

"Stereolithography can be made stronger and can be machined more accurately than those made by the FDM process."

Perhaps the technology has improved. But the whole reason companies replaced the stereolithographic machines with FDM is because of the benefits of using "real plastic." It was stronger and didn't photo-degrade like the resins do.

I am not knocking the Form1: it's a great device. But I caution anyone to treat it like some new big up-and-coming thing.

Small model size (1)

godel_56 (1287256) | about a year and a half ago | (#42888349)

TFA says it can make objects up to 125mm X 125mm X165mm (4.9 X 4.9 X 6.5 inches), not very big.

Is Acrylate Photopolymer suitable for a lost wax style casting process?

This just in: CES ended a month ago (1)

Plumpaquatsch (2701653) | about a year and a half ago | (#42888459)

And even that wouldn't really be news anymore.

Towards Home Fabrication? (1)

DanielRavenNest (107550) | about a year and a half ago | (#42888625)

From the summary: "So this is another step toward fully-useful home fabrication of... almost anything."

Well, a very small step. The Form 1 machine cannot make the polymer it consumes, or the metal enclosure for it's base. For those you need a flexible chemical plant to supply various polymers, and a hydraulic press to roll-form the sheet metal.

The Seed Factory Project ( http://en.wikibooks.org/wiki/User:Danielravennest/papers/Seed_Factory_Project [wikibooks.org] ), which will be starting soon, is aimed at a more complete collection of machines that *can* fabricate "almost anything", including it's own parts. It will not be home-sized though. More community-sized, where you submit your "print job" and pick up the finished parts/items later. One feature of the seed concept is it does not have to do everything "out of the box". It can produce parts for additional types of machines to expand the range of things it can do. A design that includes a starter set + CAD files for additional machines saves money compared to including all the machines at the start.

Getting down to home-sized is not practical with current technology, nor it is efficient. How often do you need to print a new couch? It makes more sense to share the equipment over a larger group of people, so it is not sitting idle most of the time and reduces the cost.

Valid until? (1)

SonOfSengaya (582624) | about a year and a half ago | (#42888889)

The patent is from 1997. Does anybod know how long such a patent is valid?

I'm all about 3D printing but (1)

mark_reh (2015546) | about a year and a half ago | (#42888997)

what is the only point of reference for a technology that starts off crazy expensive and then gets cheap enough for consumers? Ink jet printing. Has the cost of ink cartridges dropped to almost free even as millions and millions of the things get manufactured and used? Nope.

Why would 3D printing chemistry (photo resins for STL) get cheap?

If you want 3D on the cheap, you need a plastic extruder and use ABS or PLA.

Re:I'm all about 3D printing but (1)

studog-slashdot (771604) | about a year and a half ago | (#42895135)

what is the only point of reference for a technology that starts off crazy expensive and then gets cheap enough for consumers?

"Only point"? No. You're using one right now! Computers. Also, Cars, boats, CDs, desktop publishing, radio broadcasting (ignoring that it's illegal), cell phones... I'm pretty sure the list is quite large.

American Industrialism, Made In China (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42889001)

Formlabs is going forward, building and shipping 3D printers as fast as they can

I see a bunch of white & nerdy guys on the Formlab website impaled in front of computer screens.
I don't get the feeling that they are "building and shipping 3D printers as fast as they can".

Dude your getting a Form1 (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42911329)

Guy could totally be Michael Dell in a few years.

Making 3D printers out of his dorm room, selling them to uber nerdy geeks in a small town in Texas.

Never amount to much.. nah.

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