The FormLabs Form 1 high resolution desktop printer has some limitations/drawbacks for the type of work that I typically do, but it is so incredibly awesome that I want one anyway.
The part resolution, surface finish, and ability to produce parts that would be difficult if not impossible with other additive 3D printers, is really striking. Take a close look at the print developing in the Form 1 photo above. How difficult would it be for you to produce the same print with a Makerbot Replicator 2?
In addition to the print quality and performance, I love the aesthetic design of the printer itself. If Johnny Ive designed 3D printers instead of iPhones, this is the type of printer he would create.
At the same time, there are some downsides/limitations. The Form 1 won't be available until January 2014 at the earliest, and not in all US states or countries overseas. Japan is one of the countries that's obviously missing from the list at this point, though I did hear from the FormLabs staff at Maker Faire that plans for Japan sales and support are in the works.
The initial cost is higher than other printers, which I can rationalize given the higher performance and print quality. What's harder to justify, for my unique needs, is the higher projected running cost given that the printer resin has to be purchased from FormLabs and it isn't readily available locally. That implies that users will have to stock resin or risk running out just when they need to produce parts for projects or clients. For overseas users, like me, where it can take a week or more even for expedited FedEx delivery (not to mention costing an arm and a leg), this is a serious concern.
There are also some limitations that might be troublesome, depending on your particular use case. For example, one of the FormLabs booth staff explained that the Form 1 resin parts take several days to cure to the point that they are solid enough to be used in functional parts that might be subjected to stress. This wouldn't be a problem for artistic or concept designers, but would definitely pose significant problems for the type of parts I design and use regularly.
All things considered, the Form 1 is in a class by itself and definitely worth serious consideration if it's characteristics match your typical use case.
We meet up with MakerBot Industries at this year's World Maker Faire to finally see the MakerBot Digitizer 3D scanner in person and learn about how it works. Plus the answer to a nagging question: What happens when you scan an object, 3D print it, and repeat the process over and over again?
Following on to my previous post on the new Makerbot Digitizer, the "gnome" character shown above is a perfect example of the type of parts where the digitizer will perform well, if not excel.
Just like Goldilocks experience with the three bears, the gnome is not too large and not too small - it's just right. It has no large cavities, no overhangs, is primarily smooth surfaces without drastic or abrupt surface changes, and it lacks the type of small details that would cause problems for the digitizer.
It's also a matte surface with no reflections that are difficult for the unit's lasers. Of course you can scan items with shiny surfaces, you just have to make them appear matte by applying some powder or other material to mask the reflection. This is a typical challenge with all digitizers of this type, not a design fault. It's just something you need to be aware of and plan for in order to get the best possible scans from your digitizer.
One other thing that was slightly annoying in the Makerbot Digitizer user manual and at their booth at Maker Faire was the over promotion of "Thingiverse". I'm a big supporter of Thingiverse, upload my designs to it often, and promote it to other 3D printer users when it's appropriate. It's a very useful resource and I'm very happy that the company supports it.
But with Makerbot, Thingiverse seems to have evolved into almost a religious mantra that pops up everytime one of the employees opens their mouth to speak. The same thing is true of the digitizer user manual. It keeps on telling you to upload your designs to Thingiverse, over and over again.
They do provide a check box in the software to set it up so that the designs you upload can be kept private. In my opinion, the setting to keep designs private should be the default, and you should always have the option not to upload. A lot of us work on design projects for customers, or have our own development projects that we do not want to share or even let the world know what we're working on until we're ready to disclose it. It seems all too easy with the Makerbot Digitizer setup and supporting software to overlook a checkbox and suddenly find that your project has been disclosed to the world, and possibly your competitors. Perhaps I'm overly concerned, especially since I'm basing my observations on what I was told by the Makerbot staff at the event and what I have interpreted from the user manual.
I was really looking forward to seeing the new Makerbot Digitizer in person at Maker Faire in New York. During the three days I spent at the venue, I was able to stop by the Makerbot booth quite a few times to watch it in operation and discuss the unit both with the Makerbot employees and potential users. Downloading the digitizer documentation from the company website made it possible to ask intelligent questions and to verify key points.
Overall, I left with a fairly positive impression of the digitizer. It works as advertised, is dead simple to use, and produces robust STL files that can be sliced and printed immediately. The unit looks very professional and would look right at home in a engineering lab or design office.
So, what were the downsides? Unfortunately there were a few that will probably keep me from placing an order, at least for the time being.
First is the price. At over USD$1,500, before shipping/handling, it would be hard to justify amortizing the cost over the number of times I could put it to good use for client projects. I'm sure that there are potential customers with a different business model that can use the Makerbot Digitizer, I'm just not in that position right now.
Second is the lack of detail resolution - for me this is a non-starter, and I think it will impact a lot of potential users as well. A good (or bad) example is the puppy model shown above that Makerbot used at the event to show off the digitizer. As you can see from the photo, the puppy has a lot of fine detail, including the hairs on its back. Unfortunately the digitizer can't resolve that level of detail. The STL mesh created by the Makerbot Digitizer application produces smooth surfaces instead.
Third, and this is good news/bad news, the digitizer scan envelope will handle parts that can fit into a cylinder 203 mm in diameter and 203 mm high. While that sounds great, the digitizer can not handle parts that are under 50 mm in diameter or under 50 mm tall. This rules out quite a few of the typical parts I work with regularly. My first thought was to place my parts on a small cylinder, digitize everything, then remove the cylinder by processing the resulting STL data. But the lack of digitizer resolution appears to make that approach impractical.
All things considered, the new Makerbot Digitizer will be attractive to creative artists, some designers, and perhaps consultants, as long as they don't require fine resolution and can afford the price tag.
Scott Vader and his son Zachary showed a early prototype model of their Liquid Metal Jet Printer.
Although the printer was non-functional at Maker Faire, Vader, with over 30 years experience in manufacturing and engineering speaks with a lot of confidence and is sure he will be able to bring the product to market in the near future.
This supersized dragon model was printed on one of the early Makerbot printers. In order to accomplish the task, it was broken down into over 100 separate pieces that were then glued together.