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3D printing: precision arrives with Formlabs and the Form 1

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We first heard about Formlabs’s high-resolution Form 1 3D printer back in September. Where most mainstream printers use the equivalent of a hot glue gun to lay plastic down layer-upon-layer in order to build up a part, the Formlabs’s approach uses stereolithography: an approach that uses a liquid photopolymer resin which hardens when blasted with laser light. This lets the machine print four times as precisely as low-cost competitors using more conventional approaches to printing.

At CES this week, we caught up with one of the company’s co-founders, Max Lobovsky, and got to speak with him for a few minutes about the machine, and how production has been coming along since the group blew past its initial Kickstarter goal of $100,000, to raise $3 million.

After studying applied physics at Cornell, Lobovsky met the other co-founders, David Cranor and Natan Linder, at the MIT Media Lab, in Professor Neil Gershenfeld’s class, How to Make (Almost) Anything. There, the team got to play with expensive equipment, like the lab’s $30,000 stereolithographic 3D printer. As their time at school drew to a close, they started to realize that they were "about to be thrown out onto the street" without the fancy equipment after they graduated.

At the time, the group surveyed the existing 3D printer landscape, and decided that while the community was full of enthusiasm, it was "a hobbyist, open source kind of thing." If they wanted to go into business building 3D printers, the team needed to re-engineer things from the ground up, starting with industrial design. Lobovsky tells us that the Form 1’s simple, clean aesthetic is something that the team has been focused on since the very beginning of the project. In fact, the first employee the founders hired was a designer to build the machine.

Right now, the company is hard at work getting ready to ship its initial production run of 1,000 printers by the end of April. Predictably, it’s been challenging to figure out how to produce the printer in a way that customers will be able to just plug in and use, without having to do any calibration, but the group thinks it has everything sorted out. "We figured out a way to do that at the factory so that it works out of the box, but that’s all transparent to the user, so you just plug it into USB," explains the co-founder.

Before we leave, I ask Lobovsky what the future holds for the company. Is there any chance we’ll see a second printer design? "We’re working on a lot of exciting things," says Max. And as far as that 3D Systems lawsuit? The team can’t comment on the case itself, but the co-founder tells us everything’s still on track for the April launch. "We’re going full steam ahead."

The Verge
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