3D printers have become a very popular device category, even becoming popular for in-home use. While these printers can accomplish a lot, there are some things that your standard, consumer-grade 3D printer just cannot pull off. There is another category of printers, however, that is far more capable than the ones you'll find in a retail store. Commercial 3D printers, like the ones from Formlabs can print in more detail, with different materials, and more.
If you've ever encountered something printed by one of the consumer printers, you know what it looks like. The surfaces are usually rough and often you can see and feel the individual layers where it was printed. That is because of the overall resolution of the printer. Think of a consumer printer more like a dot-matrix printer, but the commercial printers are like laser printers. In fact, if you look at the Formlabs printer, it actually uses a laser in its setup. This method allows for a smooth finish and an indistinguishable print layer. In fact, these printers print in 50-micron layers, making them essentially indistinguishable.
In addition to resolution, the Formlabs printers also allow for some incredibly unique printing materials. At the event, the company showed off some of these unusual materials. One of the most impressive was a dental grade polymer, which is being used to make dentures. This process allows a dentist to take a scan of your mouth and enter it into a computer, printing a new set of dentures in the office. This is faster, cheaper, and more convenient than taking a physical mold of the mouth and shipping it to a production facility, having to wait for the dentures to be produced and shipped back.
Truly, though, the most impressive material was called Elastic and was a completely flexible material. You can squeeze the printed item in your hand, bend it around, and the item will correct itself. Essentially, it is like being able to print with rubber bands instead of hard plastic. There are many jobs that this material can make possible that were simply out of reach in the past.
The Formlabs printers are available now starting at $3,350.
Interview by Daniele Mendez of The New Product Launchpad.
Daniele is a student at Florida Polytechnic University who is studying Computer Science with a concentration in Cyber Security. In High School, she was introduced to the science and technology world through the Foundation for Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology (FIRST), a robotics foundation where students of varying ages can compete through tasks that their robots perform. With help from mentors she met through FIRST, she became interested in programming and developing. Today, Daniele is a special events host for F5 Live: Refreshing Technology and PLuGHiTz Live Special Events and a co-host for both The New Product Launchpad and FIRST Looks.
Scott is a developer who has worked on projects of varying sizes, including all of the PLUGHITZ Corporation properties. He is also known in the gaming world for his time supporting the rhythm game community, through DDRLover and hosting tournaments throughout the Tampa Bay Area. Currently, when he is not working on software projects or hosting F5 Live: Refreshing Technology, Scott can often be found returning to his high school days working with the Foundation for Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology (FIRST), mentoring teams and helping with ROBOTICON Tampa Bay. He has also helped found a student software learning group, the ASCII Warriors, currently housed at AMRoC Fab Lab.