In June 2017, 3D printer manufacturer Formlabs announced the launch of Fuse 1, the company’s first selective laser sintering (SLS) 3D printer.
“When we launched the world’s first desktop stereolithography 3D printer in 2012, Formlabs created new possibilities for designers and engineers to create physical products by giving them access to professional 3D printing technology that had historically been unavailable,” says Max Lobovsky, CEO of Formlabs.
“With Fuse 1, we are taking the same approach to making powerful SLS technology available to a huge range of customers.”
Numerous companies, including global brands like New Balance and Google, are already testing the new systems.
“SLS technology enables designers and engineers to accelerate their prototyping process by combining realistic material properties with the minimization of 3D printing design constraints,” says David Beardsley, manager of Google ATAP Skunkworks.
“With the Fuse 1, a combination of high precision parts, reduced cycle time and robust materials allow teams to easily iterate throughout the design process and accelerate from whiteboard to final parts.”
With this new hardware, Formlabs hopes to make next-generation digital manufacturing more accessible, and enable mass customization through industrial-grade 3D printing.
The Formlabs Fuse 1 promises to bring the industrial power of SLS 3D printing to the benchtop, with the same intuitiveness and reliability that users of the Form 2 have come to appreciate.
Pricing and features include:
Beta units of the Fuse 1 are expected to ship in Spring 2018, and you can reserve a unit now with a minimum deposit of $1,000.
Non-Beta versions are expected to ship later in the year, from September 2018.
In this exclusive interview with ALL3DP, Formlabs Lead Engineer Eduardo Torrealba talks about the development of the new Fuse 1 SLS 3D printer and what makes it so unique.
I grew up in Texas, and I went to college at Baylor University for a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering. After that, I studied mechanical engineering again for a master’s degree at the University of Illinois. While I was there, I started a small internet-of-things consumer startup and made a device called PlantLink. PlantLink was an internet-connected soil moisture sensor for gardeners. That company was acquired by Scotts Miracle-Gro, and they’re going to turn it into their Connected Yard platform in 2018.
At the end of my time with that company, I joined Formlabs. I connected with Max , the CEO, and he showed me an early experiment for a SLS printer. They hadn’t built the printer yet; they were just looking at some different powders and lasers.
I joined in November of 2014 and worked with another engineer to build the first prototype of the system, and we’ve been working on it ever since. It’s been almost three years now, and we have nearly 35 people working on the Fuse 1 at this point, so it’s come a long way.
There’s certainly a variety of things that we think about. I’d say one of the main challenges is reducing the cost and the complexity from what exists commercially. SLS printers have not changed substantially in the past 30 years, since being introduced. They’ve gotten larger, they’ve gotten a little bit more capable, and they use new materials, but overall, they’re still a couple of refrigerator-sized machines with inert gas environments, CO2 lasers, and all these things.
So, we came in and reevaluated the entire process from first principles, went back to Carl Deckard’s original PhD thesis, looked at lots of papers that have been published, and tried to understand what it actually takes to sinter two particles of plastic together. So, we built a very minimal prototype to test our theories, and we’ve just iterated since then to improve reliability and lower the cost of producing the machines. At this point, with the Fuse 1, we’re pretty confident that we’ve hit the right mix for those things.
Well, our system can do the same materials, offering the same material properties and the same level of detail for the parts. We have a smaller build volume, so that’s certainly a difference, and we also have to do dark materials for now, and that is a limitation on color. So, if you wanted to do brightly colored parts that you dye afterwards or pristine white parts, the Fuse 1 can’t do that right now, but I think the tradeoffs are worth it for the quality of the parts that you get at the price point.
It’s the same Nylon 12 that you would print on any industrial SLS printer. It’s just been colored black through one of our material development partners that we’re working with in order to work with the wavelength of the laser.
Yeah, we have the same industrial design team that worked on the Form 1 and Form 2 working on the Fuse 1, so it’s a constant thread throughout all of our products. Our goal is to increase the accessibility of 3D printing. The main thing we’ve done as a company is take SLA printing from the workshop and put it on the desktop, and now we’re trying to take SLS printing from a dedicated room and put it in your workshop, and we think that simplicity is required all the way through.
A key part of simplicity is actually reliability; it doesn’t matter if the machine is easy to start if it fails every time you start it, or if it fails half the time you start it. You need it to deliver parts. So, that’s the thing that we’re really focused on right now, is making sure that you will get the same reliability from the Fuse 1 that you expect from the Form 2.
That’s right. We’re currently launching with Nylon 12. Right now, roughly 90 to 95 percent of all parts printed with SLS are printed with Nylon 12, so we’re trying to match that level of material performance, and then the goal is to expand our materials portfolio, the same way we’ve done it with stereolithography.
In the past four to five years, we’ve rolled out resins that are on par or better than corresponding resins from traditional SLA printing, and with SLS printing, our goal is to do the same thing with other materials. We’re already talking about Nylon 11 as a follow-up material, and then we’re evaluating a wide range of materials to introduce into the product line.
You might be surprised to learn that we already have a very broadly scoped business. The vast majority of our users are professionals that are using the Form 2 in some capacity as part of their job. Dentists are making in-use parts, lots of Fortune 500 business are printing parts for prototyping – we have printers all over the world in the hands of professional users, and I think the Fuse 1 is no different.
It’ll probably be a subset of those users because while the Form 2 can be used by an individual person in a consulting shop that just needs to buy something to augment their business, the Fuse 1 is more targeted at a small- to medium- to large-sized business.
You probably would be purchasing the Fuse 1 as part of a larger prototyping facility, whereas the Form 2 could be your first 3D printer. So, I think that’s the main difference that we see, but within that, there are already people who are reserving the product, from medical product development to education. Tons of different industries are showing interest in the Fuse 1.
License: The text of "Formlabs Fuse 1 3D Printer: Review the Facts Here!" by All3DP is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.
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