The era of 3D printers has arrived and thanks to the efforts of a new company, Formlabs, 3D printing is now possible in the comfort of your own home.
Formlabs was founded by Maxim Lobovsky, Natan Linder, and David Cranor who met while attending the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Formlabs quickly achieved success through a Kickstarter campaign launched in October of 2012. The company raised nearly three million dollars, becoming one of the highest funded projects in Kickstarter history.
Although 3D printing is getting plenty of attention for its amazing creations, most people have no idea to what extent 3D printing will become an essential part of their daily lives. The comparison is akin to how Steve Jobs and Apple made cell phones a vital tool of communication and productivity.
In a recent interview with the company’s Global Marketing Leader, Colin Raney, we discuss how Formlabs hopes designers, consumers and developers will empower themselves by streamlining existing manufacturing processes and help produce innovative products and companies through desktop 3D printing.
Tim Smart: Two years ago, Formlabs grossed nearly three million dollars in its Kickstarter campaign. Since then, it has acquired over nineteen million dollars from various investment sources, which clearly suggests a prosperous future for the company. Can you explain what makes Formlabs the perfect choice compared to its competitors when it comes to 3D printing?
Colin Raney: We’ve worked really hard to create a product that serves designers and engineers at any scale. The Form 1+ creates amazing, high-quality prints at a really accessible price. This is a tool that is perfect for one person’s desktop, or for an entire department with several printers working together. The goal is the speed from idea to prototype. With the bigger machines, everyone has to wait for a part to print. Desktop printers make design cycles much faster.
Tim Smart: Formlabs is the top choice among many designers and engineers when it comes to 3D printing. How does the staff at Formlabs work with members of its own community?
Colin Raney: We try and work really closely with our community. We regularly try to feature our lead users on our blog and website. We have an excellent customer support team, and they publish their call reports to the whole company. We take hundreds of calls a week, and 98-99% of the people who work with our support department are very satisfied. We also connect with our users openly in our forums. You can see everything there. You’ll see users sharing some of the most incredible pieces you’ve ever seen, and you’ll see frustrated users trouble shooting their printers. We try to be really transparent.
(F1+ 3D Printed Objects)
Tim Smart: How does Formlabs stand to empower small businesses and independent creatives?
Colin Raney: 3D printers used to be locked up in service agencies, or big corporations. The recent revolution has made them available to everyone. We’re excited that the Form 1+ only costs slightly more than a high-end laptop. That means it’s accessible to everyone.
Tim Smart: Recently, Formlabs expanded its distribution to Singapore and Australia. What are the future plans for Formlabs as it expands into the global market place?
Colin Raney: We want to continue to expand, but only in a way that we can maintain the same level of service I mentioned before. So we’re taking it slow and steady.
Tim Smart: What kinds of markets and economies will this technology innovate and inspire?
Colin Raney: We hope it will inspire everyone. The great thing about this technology is that it’s so affordable, you’re always surprised by what people create.
Tim Smart: Also, how does this affect large scale manufacturing and will micro manufacturing be affordable for all?
Colin Raney: Manufacturing is always evolving. It may seem slow, but if you look close enough, you see massive transformations in the products and services we buy. There are leaner practices hatching in manufacturing all the time and micro manufacturing is making huge strides. In the end there will be a continuum.
The future of manufacturing and product distribution
A team of researchers at Michigan Technological University conducted a study to find out how much a family might save by printing common objects (such as simple replacement parts or toys) at home instead of buying them in stores or online. 3D printing hopes to cut costs and save consumers thousands of dollars each year.
The researches at Michigan printed a variety of items for the study, including an iPhone case, a garlic press, safety razor, and spoon holder. One of the most striking examples in using a 3D printer to cut costs was producing an iPhone 5 case, which cost 27 cents to print. This offers significant savings when compared to the $20 price tag for the same item found in Apple Stores and other retailers.
Imagine no longer needing to pick out an overly priced phone case or item of jewelry. The power is now in your hands to design a product that matches your personality at well over half the savings. Thanks to the Form1+ 3D printer, you can print and manufacture almost anything you can imagine and design.
On the flip side, traditional billion dollar industries may be on the verge of becoming obsolete. The beauty industry, which makes over fifty billion dollars a year, is already beginning to feel the effects of 3D printers. This is in part due to Grace Choi, who recently introduced the world to Mink, the first 3D makeup printer. With Mink, consumers are able to print out their own pallet of eye shadows, blushes and additional accessories using a desktop printer at a fraction of the cost of those sold at beauty stores.
Formlabs is focused on innovation
Formlabs has introduced two new resins called Castable and Flexible that greatly expand the variety of products their printers can produce.
Castable resin is perfect for jewelers, engineers, and designers who care about manufacturing speed, and are looking to transition more swiftly from a 3D design to a model suited for direct investment casting.
Flexible is a rubber-like material that’s ideal for hinges, engineering applications like shock absorption, tactile surfaces, and other applications requiring resilient, pliable parts.
Formlabs is also unique in the pride it takes in valuing its community of supporters. By listening to the Formlabs community, the company has been able to grow and improve in ways its competitors haven’t.
To learn more about the world of 3D printing and Formlabs, check out a documentary called Print The Legend. This documentary provides viewers a vivid account of how Formlabs is focused on making a product that will greatly change the course of society by making 3D printers that are not only affordable but also easy to use.
The opportunities 3D printing offers to the world are seemingly limitless. From the use of 3D printed materials in the construction of low income housing to the printing of edible foods, Formlabs is betting that the world of 3D printing is on course to revolutionize the lives of consumers, manufactures, and designers all over the world.