It will be the most iconic invention in the printing industry since Gutenberg invented the printing press some 600 years ago. A machine, that can make copies of almost anything. But this time, in 3D. It seems like science fiction, but 3d printing is already in use. Building hearing aids, jewellery, even parts for NASA. Now the technology is becoming available for everyone, means you can convert your garage into a small factory. So what would you build, if you could create anything? Here is a Fullestop Review:
Layer upon layer, tiny droplets are deposited, building up a structure. The project is a type of 3D printing. The process is simple; send a scanned copy of whatever you want to create to the printer and the machine starts building. Name of the machine is Form 1, developed by Formlabs.
The 3D printing technology had been around since the mid 80s when they used it for prototyping industrial settings. But now it has changed and has reached a very higher level. Some commercial airplanes are now outfitted with air ducts that are 3D printed. They’re smoother, lighter, and cheaper than the traditional method. Hollywood is using 3D printing to make costumes, like the powerful suit in Iron Man – II. In every case, a digital blueprint is either sketched or scanned, and then sent to the 3D printer. The printing itself is done by a liquid plastic named resin, drop-by-drop.
From guitars to racing cars, even a model of your unborn child, people who embrace 3D printing are finding new uses for the emerging technology. Once used at the industrial level only, 3D printing has gone mainstream. Today in Manhattan, you can wander into a 3D printing store, the only of its kind, and can take home your own printer or the objects created by it.
From tools and toys, to models and jewellery, Form 1 printer allows anyone to design, and create. Back in 2008, you could download movies, you could download books, you could download music, but you couldn’t download things. But now you can. Want to purchase an iPhone case? No need to buy, as you can simply download its blueprint and create it by yourself. In fact, there are websites that offer you thousands of blueprints of different objects.
But what happens to laws and regulations when you are free to print anything. When you can make anything, there are, seemingly, no boundaries, which is exactly the point. There are designs for WikiWeapon, the digital design of a gun that everybody can download and create. Keeping a gun isn’t legal in most of the countries, then creating them at home is a big, big offence. And distributing the blueprint to create them is even bigger.
So what exactly is Form 1?
The Form 1 is actually designed to do more complicated work. The process by which it prints the objects is called Stereolithography, a form of 3D fabrication. It uses an ultraviolet laser to cure liquid plastic resin. The output produced by this method is of very high resolution – 0.025 mm per layer, or 1/100th of an inch. Thus, this printing method is very appropriate when you need to create tiny parts, jewellery, and other objects that need perfect edges and incredibly fine details.
Unlike other 3D printing machines that cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, the Form 1 is relatively cheap – $3,300 for the unit and $150 per litre of resin. Also, the PreForm software that runs the printer can be downloaded for free. Though, the machine is built to print objects less than 4.9 inches wide, 4.9 inches deep, and 6.5 inches tall.
The Form 1 works quietly, and slowly. A small object of 6 cm may take over six hours to print at the highest resolution. The lower resolution takes comparatively lesser time. And the best part is; you could hardly differentiate between the high-res output and low-res output.
I have seen many 3D printing machines and have used some of them, but no one of them could challenge the ease of Form 1. Unbox, plug in, pour the resin and print. As simple as that! No calibration, no levelling the print bed and no installation procedure. All you need to take care of is placing the machine in proper adjustment because even a small tilt in its placement may result to the resin dropping on the edges.
PreForm, the software that runs the machine is really good. The interface is very simple and functional. Formlabs have released some updates since the first release, and hence the software has improved a lot. The printing process is very simple and identical to many other 3D printers. You import your STL, place it on the bed, tweak your print setting, and send it the machine for printing.
One thing which you will surely notice is how quite this thing is. Once it’s past its first few layers, the only noise you hear is the resin tray tilting between layers. Everything is done very quietly. Printing speed is not very fast, but it’s similar to other expensive 3D printers out there. And it can be increased if you decrease the resolution or print simple objects.
The only drawback that SLA printing has is that you need to remove the excess resin with Isopropanol (IPA) once the printing is done. Doing this is not tough but it can be messy, and the fumes from IPA are pretty wicked. If you’re printing with any support then you need to manually snap the support structure.
Printing quality of Form 1 is pretty good, especially for tiny and complex geometry. The final output is a replica of the object you want to print. Also, the edges are very fine and well-shaped. However, the first output printed by Form 1 is without a glitch.
The Form 1 is really a nice machine, and worth the money you spend to buy it. Using it is very easy and it produces good quality parts. As stated by the guys who developed the machine, it’s really a 3D printing machine for designers and engineers. From the scratches, we can say we may find this machine in many labs, schools and colleges in the near future.