Formlabs introduces Automation Ecosystem

Formlabs, which has developed a range of 3D printers, has introduced a new Automation Ecosystem for use with its Form 3 range of 3D printers.

Essentially this is a way of automating some of the functions around 3D printers, such as unloading finished parts and loading fresh materials so that the machines can be left to run unattended. This should lead to more efficient production and therefore lower costs. 

It also makes it easier for customers to expand the number of printers they are running without having to take on more staff. Formlabs claims that this new Automation Ecosystem should lead to a three-time increase in productivity while saving up to 80 percent on labour, lowering cost per part by 40 percent, and reducing packaging waste by up to 96 percent.

The Form 3 range of 3D printers are desktop models that use the stereolithography approach, also known as SLA, which uses a UV laser to trace the outline of each layer on a base that is submerged in a vat of resin. The resin itself is a photosensitive resin in a liquid form. Essentially it’s a similar process to a UV-curable inkjet printer. The UV light in the laser activates monomers in the resin that causes a photo-polymerisation reaction that cross-links the molecules to create a solid layer. After each layer has been cured, the base is raised, exposing more resin so that the laser can trace out the next layer. This process is best suited to producing small parts but is reasonably fast and leads to well-defined parts.

The advantage of this new Automation Ecosystem is that it offers users a cost-effective way of scaling up their production. Formlabs already offers the ability to network its desktop printers together to create a printer farm so this new system cuts down on the manual intervention needed to run those farms. Ganging lots of small printers together allows for redundancy if one fails and makes it easier to add more to increase productivity, plus each printer can be used to produce different parts.

The Automation Ecosystem is made up of three main components. Form Auto is additional hardware for use with the Form 3 or Form 3+ 3D printers, which is designed to remove finished parts from the Build Platform 2 using the patented Quick Release Technology. It then starts the next print in the queue as soon as possible without any further human intervention needed. As such it allows for automated 24/7 printing.

Then there’s the Fleet Control software, which is a suite of new features within Formlabs’ Dashboard and PreForm software that includes centralized queue management and automatic printer assignment to optimize production, performance and printer efficiency. This works with Form 3+, Form 3B+, Form 3L, and Form 3BL printer fleets.

Inevitably, if you automate the production, then you are going to run out of materials faster so the third part is the High Volume Resin System, which holds five litres of resin, as opposed to the 1-litre standard cartridge. This system allows for consistent resin dispensing with a Resin Pump to reduce the user intervention needed to change cartridges. Less cartridges also means less packaging waste. This is compatible with the Form 3+, Form 3B+. Form 3L and Form 3BL.

Dávid Lakatos, Formlabs’ chief product Officer, said: “The Formlabs Automation Ecosystem is a seamless solution for ramping up production with 3D printer fleets, staying true to the ease of use of all Formlabs products, so anyone can make anything. These solutions will enable companies such as dental labs, service bureaus, and internal job shops to ramp up production without increasing labour requirements, or expensive capital investment, making 3D printing for production more cost-effective.”

He added: “Formlabs users have recently achieved a major milestone, with more than 100 million parts printed on our 3D printers, and by adding this ecosystem, Formlabs is increasing the capacity so users can deliver further 3D printing innovation.”

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