Are your prints failing because your laser focus is degraded?

For those of you having repeated print failures, you might want to try the Laser Spot Test yourself to see if your laser is in focus. In theory, the spot should be very small and sharp with no halos like those in the attached photos. I’m using a Mac so I only have the Mac instructions. Maybe someone else can post the PC instructions.

Here’s how you do the Laser Spot Test on a Mac:

  1. Remove the build platform and then the resin tray.

  2. Cut a piece of white paper the size of about 7 x 7 1/2 inches. Put it over the hole where the tray was. Close the lid.

  3. Open Terminal. You can search for Terminal using Spotlight, or navigate to it via /Applications/Utilities/Terminal.

  4. In Terminal, type the following line exactly:
    /Applications/ -diagnostic

  5. When you hit Enter/Return, PreForm will automatically open with an additional Diagnostic drop-down option in the menu bar. You can click “Apply” or Exit the Print Setup window.

  6. From the Diagnostic option in the menu bar, select “Laser Spot Test” and follow the instructions by covering the tank area with the piece of paper if you haven’t already done that and close the lid.

  7. The laser should turn on for about 10 seconds. Take a picture.

  8. After the test is complete, just turn the Form 1 off and on again to return to normal operation.

I’d love to see photos from those of you having failures and even from those who are not. The first thing I am going to do when they send me the 3rd printer is to run the Laser Spot Test before I start my first print so I have a baseline photo to compare with photos after prints start failing.

If laser degraded, is there problem with there intensity and shape such as oval shape, halo, hazy color?

My Form 1 also didn’t print well and when I printed, there were many extra layer(unnecessary) next to output.

I’m very frustrated with exactly same problem(all project were hold…)…

If your laser focus is degraded, it will look something like the pictures, above. A degraded laser partially forms solids outside of the model ruining the print and many times the PDMS layer in the tray. Try the Laser Spot Test for yourself and post the pictures.

Here is my form 1 laser focus test. Is it normal? If it is not normal, then I waste my money and time because I thought the problem was in resin and resin tank. I ordered 2 more resins and 2 more resin tank… The first photo is output of nowdays and normal output is 4th picture which I printed before I experienced continuous failure.

Hi Sun, yes that is most definitely a failed laser. That square shape is a dead giveaway of a “final stage” failed laser. On failure they degrade progressively over the course of a few prints, until finally the laser spot looks like yours.

The reason you’re seeing a square shape is because the laser is now shining like a torch beam, but the round beam is squared off by the two galvo mirrors.

Mine and others have failed in exactly the same way - see this other very similar thread :

The first and second pictures show mine and Paul Ingram’s failed lasers doing the spot test, the third pictures shows my laser shining against the wall after I removed it from it’s housing for a better look - it shows how the laser is now shining like a torch, and that the square shape is the what happens when that torch beam is passed through the two galvo mirrors.

Oh my god… what can I do and what should I do? I didn’t use my form 1 so much. And I live in South Korea. Wow… It make me crazy. My money and time…;;;;

How can I fix my Form 1? Should I send my Form 1 from South Korea to Formlabs in USA…?

I am very sorry to say, that currently your only simple option is to raise a ticket with formlabs and get them to replace your printer. Unfortunately they are now charging for shipping on replacements, so I expect this will be quite expensive, and it will take several weeks.

This is why I have been campaigning on the forums since last year for Formlabs to make replacement laser modules available for sale. They are extremely simple to remove and plug back into the form1, easier than installing new memory modules in a pc.

When my laser fails again (if FL haven’t made replacement laser modules available by then) I will be looking at sourcing an independent replacement laser. Either by soldering in a new laser diode into the existing laser module, or sourcing an equivalent 3rd party diode and module PCB. See the unofficial wiki here for details on the laser diode …

I have a question. What is the cause of this phenomenon? I really didn’t use my Form 1 harsh. Is it problem of laser module? Short lifetime of laser module is nature of all laser? I don’t understand;;

Hey Formlabs, care to comment on what the major issues are with the laser based on the defective machines returned to the factory? Does the laser itself have a limited lifespan in hours? Is there a problem with the galvo mirrors staying in calibration? Is concussion from delivery or peels shortening the life of the laser? What is Formlabs doing about it? Maybe you could include automatic self-diagnostic routines in the firmware to detect and correct any laser problems or at least let the user know so they don’t keep wasting resin on failed prints.

Why don’t you formally announce that the Laser Spot Test exists and provide some technical details about the expected appearance of a normally function laser and what the various abnormal patterns mean?

Here are the instructions for getting to the Diagnostic menu and the Laser Spot Test on a PC (obtained from another laser problem thread):

For Windows XP:
“C:\Program Files\Formlabs\PreForm\PreForm.exe” -diagnostic

For Windows 7 and above:
“C:\Program Files (X86)\Formlabs\PreForm\PreForm.exe” -diagnostic

@Sung - at the moment we have no idea what’s causing the laser failure. I have to conclude it’s hardware in the laser module itself from observing it operating outside the form1 (see picture 3 above), moreover, going by that picture I strongly suspect it’s the laser diode itself that’s failing - even though in proper operation these things are supposed to last 10 of thousands of hours.

In dialogues I had with FL support at the time, they had no idea themselves - but I hope that’s just the company line on not revealing hardware issues they’re still trying to sort out internally, or support is just ignorant and that someone at FL knows why the lasers fail so often. If no-one at FL still has any clue then that’s very worrying…

I’ve only tentative theories had so far, and I stress these are very, very tentative. I am no expert on lasers or electronics in general, I’m just a curious problem solver (troubleshooting code is my day job).

Firstly the lasers might be overheating and causing the laser diode to fail. The laser module itself is installed still wrapped in a plastic label which insulates it from its aluminium housing. I’ve removed the plastic label from my laser module so that the “brass” module case is in contact with the aluminium housing.

When I hold my finger on the module while running a print, it feels warm to the touch, but not hot. I’ve run hundreds of prints since removing the sticker without a laser issue but I’m really not sure if removing the sticker has helped, since the warmth of the operating laser module to touch was quite mild, and I can’t imagine that removing the sticker has a very large cooling effect.

Please note that as well as being sensitive to temperature laser diodes are also extremely sensitive to static - so before going near your laser make sure to earth yourself.

My other idea is that the power regulating circuity in the laser module PCB is not up to the task of handling the kinds of power variations/spikes seen “in the wild” outside Formlabs, since apparently laser diodes are also very susceptible to power and current variations, but my first Form1 was plugged into a surge protected socket when its laser failed - so if that’s the issue I doubt there’s an easy solution for existing printers.

This is a good thread, maybe formlabs could comment on that…
This is certainly hardware related.
And Why not because of the factory’s production ? I remember that in the kickstarter campaign, they told us that their printer was running no-stop for almost a year without any laser/galvo problems. Or it was just Com ?

There are a lot of good questions and comments in here – I can’t claim to have all the answers, but I do appreciate hearing your concerns and I know that we can do a better job of getting the message out.

The laser issues are caused by premature failure of the laser module, and have been the focus of a large amount of internal R&D. The module is certainly not designed to fail, and if you’re having issues printing – whether you suspect the laser to be at fault or not – you should certainly get in touch with our support team.  They’ll be able to take a look at your specific machine,  and have the tools (and means) to help you out. We stand behind the Form 1, and if you’re seeing issues because of part failure, we’ll take the steps necessary to make things right.

Presently, the only solution to laser degradation is the replacement of the laser module, which requires a full-factory recalibration using specialized tools. Yes, you can access the diagnostic mode by passing the -diagnostic flag to the PreForm executable in both OS X and Windows. We do prefer to work closely with you in diagnosing the specific issues seen by your machine, though, which is why that option is accessible in a specific mode. A lot of factors come together in making a successful print – a clean and well-maintained tank, a properly supported-and-oriented model, well-tuned galvonometers – and we’ve found that it’s useful to cover all bases when providing help. The laser spot test is one diagnostic tool among many, and that’s why we prefer that people use it hand-in-hand with our support team. I know for our more expert users out there, that can be frustrating, and we’re working on making some of the information on routine diagnosis and maintenance more available.

Yet another totally useless whitewash response from FL.

Perversely, I’m actually looking forward to my replacement printer Obtainable Lamb’s laser failure since I will then be able to justify working on a solution.

Sam, I trust you saw the “whitewash” comment. Let’s face it, a degraded laser is a show stopper. The first order of trouble shooting failed prints should be a check on the laser. If you can’t figure out how to build in self-diagnostics that evaluate the laser, you should post the Laser Spot Test instructions so people have that result before they even start a support ticket. A degraded laser spot = malfunctioning printer = replacement. Save us some time, money and frustration and start being more transparent.

You seem to suggest that you don’t need to be that transparent because all we have to do is start a support ticket. Well I’ve been on the e-mail support ticket Merry-Go-Round for months and it is a poor substitute for a direct conversation with someone who can respond effectively, immediately. With the e-mail dialogue only, it takes 5 times as long to get anything accomplished. It has been my experience that via e-mail, the support crew isn’t really reading me message and usually offers an answer that is vague and patronizing. To me, it seems that support people mostly want to diffuse a complaint any way he/she can and move onto the next whiner. A “whitewash” response 2 or 3 days later just prolongs the pain for your paying beta-testers. Remember, we are the believers. Alienate us and there is little future for Formlabs.

If my previous comments seem somewhat unkind, I feel badly for that. However, with all the Kickstarter hype, and continued hype, it never would have occurred to me that you didn’t already beta test the machine and work out the kinks for reliability and extreme printing scenarios. I truly feel that Formlabs never had its proverbial crap together. What do you think I tell people when they ask me if I recommend the Form 1?

I totally agree with Daniel Davis’s opinion and I feel very regrettable that I can’t express this feeling using English. I don’t want to apology, I want to practical alternative or indemnification. We are not beta tester of Formlabs.

To be honest, I’ve been holding off putting negative comments. Cos I feel they are often not constructive other than the need to vent the frustration we have so far with the printer.

But Daniel’s post struck a cord with me. I’ve gotten some great supports from formlabs when my first printer arrived DOA but sadly everything went downhill from then. My current ticket has 1 respond from the staff per week. At that rate, I might get my problem fixed when Form 2 is out?..

What’s worse is the level of professionalism. Let’s face it, most of us are tinkerers here. I’m an engineer myself and I expect diagnostics by support staff to at least be scientific. The last respond I had was to send me to make yet another test based on the staff eyeballing the pictures I submitted and somehow determined my base was off by 0.2mm? Huh?? Sorry I’m not going to waste my time and resin on superficial test like this. I make the effort to respond immediately but I guess I’m out of quota for number of replies I get until next week.

“support ticket Merry-Go-Round” Daniel said couldn’t be more true.

I understand that there are many variables in play to get the printer working but surely, you geniuses from MIT can do better.

From my experience. The support as been really really wonderful !
They seems to be concerned by my problems and really responsive of all of my requests. It’s one of the best support i’ve ever see.
And if there is a constant problem with the laser/galvo it’s not really their fault.
But I want to focus more on the laser problem, rather than if the support is good or not.
Sam say something interesting, the laser module seems to failed prematurely and they are doing massively R&D . That supposed, they will find a solution, in the middle time we will have to deal with full replacement printers.
Or maybe like Kevin said, a new procedure for replacing the laser/galvo ourselves could be a nice substitutes.
I know it’s more complex than changing the peel motor but, maybe the more “advance” users or international one could choose between changing the laser or a full replacement.

But the real question is when we will finally have a reliable printer ? Sam, i know you couldn’t give us hard number but how are the progress ?
I sincerely prefer to have a printer that stand the long run, rather than have new colors or new features in perform. I hope your team are working hard on fixing the module.

Ok, so it seems like the laser problem is inevitable? So will everyone’s printer at some point need to have the laser replaced like a lightbulb burning out? The laser is rated at 10,000 hours but on average how many hours are lasers actually lasting hour wise?

Like I’ve said before, I’ve already had one go bad because of a laser failure. I think at least Formlabs should release info on how to extend the life of the laser. Since getting my new printer what I’m doing now is only printing at 100 microns so my print times are much shorter. I’m worried that doing 50 or 25 microns could be a cause for the premature laser failures since those print times are usually pretty long. With 100 microns the items I print usually take no longer than 3 hours at the most to complete. Plus I’m trying to stay away from doing large prints since those also seem to cause people to get failed prints.

Anyway what I am asking is for Formlabs to recognize the flaw with the laser and to give us steps to extend the life of it until they figure out how to make the laser more reliable.