Your basic hobbyist 3D printer (technically known as Fused Deposition Modeling or FDM) is great for rapid prototyping because, while the objects it prints are a bit rough, the system and its associated printing costs are relatively inexpensive. However, if you want a more polished and professional-looking product, selective laser sintering (SLS) is the way to go. Problem with that is, of course, that the average SLS 3D printer is roughly the size of a small car and costs anywhere from $200,000 to $5 million. But, there's now a third option. 3D Printer manufacturer Formlabs announced on Monday that it will begin selling a scaled down SLS system that fits on a tabletop and costs 20 times less than other comparable printers.
Dubbed the Fuse 1, this SLS 3D printer starts at $10,000, though if you drop $20k Formlabs will throw in a post-processing station, an extra build piston, and your first bucket of Nylon PA 12 material. Unclutch your pearls, this machine is this expensive because it's designed for professional-scale production, not extruding D-Pads for your Switch. Formlabs plans to begin shipping these printers in spring 2018, though you can put a $1,000 deposit down beginning June 5th to ensure you get one of the first.
The Fuse 1 enables designers to construct models up to 165 x 165 x 320 mm (6.5 x 6.5 x 12.5 inches) in size. And, unlike Stereolithography (SLA) 3D printing, SLS models don't need to have built-in supports to keep it from collapsing during construction. This not only cuts down on post production processing, it allows users to design complex interior structures that they otherwise wouldn't be able to.
This isn't the extent of Formlabs' announcement, mind you. The company has also debuted a modular, semi-autonomous production unit, called the Form Cell. It's an enclosed work area equipped with 5 or more Form 2 3D printers as well as a post production wash and material recovery station. The user simply loads each machine with Nylon powder, loads the build design file and goes about their day. The system will not only print the models but also pull them out, wash them off, cure them and load them onto racks or carts, ready for assembly. What's more, the system can schedule print jobs so that printers don't stand idle while others finish their runs. It offers error detection as well as remote monitoring through its associated iOS and Android app. Best of all, its API will enable the Form Cell to easily integrate with existing customer relations, enterprise resource planning and manufacturing execution systems.
Form Cells will start at around $50,000 for a basic 5-printer setup up though there will be plenty of bells and whistles you can add on as needed. It's available for pre-order beginning June 5th and is expected to start shipping alongside the Fuse 1 next spring.