Formlabs against the rest of the world or how capable is the Form 2.
I have just come back from back to back meetings with Stratasys.
Stratasys is one of the leading 3D machine manufacturers. They build the most capable machines that are out on the market.
The most capable machines in terms of complexity, high detail and resolution, multiple colors, clear areas within the object, different materials all produced into one object at once would pretty much take this spot.
Before my meeting I put together a demanding test-file that would bring any machine to its limits. To make sure I am capable (my Form2) of producing this part I had my machine build it, maxing out the building Volume, which in the End gave the Model a hight of 6.25”.
The model came out flawlessly as to be expected and was my direct Reference Piece to anything and everything that was going to come my way.
The first meeting with Stratasys was in San Diego, CA and I was shown different types of models, parts and objects…
Polyjet Machines are the most capable machines.
I wanted my test piece to be done by a Polyjet Machine. Stratasys’ quote: $700!
While I always cry about Formlabs’ Resin prices, which are very high, the cost for my piece from my machine was $30 (I used 100 microns, the lowest resolution, clear resin). At the time Stratasys did not have my Part made but wanted to “feel out” what type of machine they offer would suit my needs.
Which brings me to different manufacturers I had contacted within the last months, 2 of them were Titan Robotics and Bigrep as we were also looking into decent filament systems. Now the word decent and Filament system is not always going together well. As most sport very mediocre to bad detail and surface quality.
I hear people tell me “Well, our machines are purpose built.” that’s a rather poor statement for a machine that costs as much as 2 new mid-size cars or more and can’t make my Test Part. That is nothing short of ridiculous.
While Bigrep $48,000 never came back with a quote for my test part Titan Robotics wanted over $1300 as their machine would need 50 hours to make it - my Form2 needed 12 hours. The Titan Robotics machine is an $80000+ machine. Yes it can make large parts, which can be very strong when using their carbon-fiber induced material but it can’t make my test part at a competitive price - I never got the part - obviously - and therefore have no reference in terms of surface and detail quality.
That’s where Stratasys comes back into play.
To be fair I need to add that my Form 2 could only make the Part at 6.25” hight the actual size was between 10” and 11”. If I were to have my machine build it original size I’d have to make it in multiple pieces, which is of course doable, easier as a matter of fact as I could rotate the different components into more favorable positions compared to tackling the entire piece. So essentially material cost would go up to about $60-$70 with the Form 2.
The purpose here was to see the capabilities of different machines compared to the Form2 so it (the test piece) had to be made in one run.
At the first Stratasys meeting I was given some parts that I thought to be Polyjet but in reality they were coming from their Filament Systems. The first filament part to come close to a good surface finish that I had ever seen. Quite good! Nice Detail as well. Of course my Part was much more demanding than what they showed me, so Stratasys agreed to have one of their Filament machines make my test part at original size. Material Cost $75.
After the first meeting I wasn’t too impressed as the Polyjet parts had all a slightly rough surface a bit like fine sandpaper or the “Sandstone” pieces that are popular with Shapeways and other companies that offer 3D manufacturing services. Not getting into detail here - “sandstone” objects are only for static display and have zero functional properties and limited detail capabilities.
What did impress me were the filament parts that came from their F Series machines.
The second meeting was up in Valencia, CA. That’s where the big show rooms are and all their flagship machines. This did impress me quite a bit. Amazing models and functional parts laid out on a huge table. Colorful, intricate and extremely functional parts. Large, small, detailed. However nothing as detailed as my test part. All those objetcts coming from machines made by one manufacturer.
The sad thing here was that they didn’t come through with making my test - they did but the operator did not use the highest resolution which was necessary and he also had used the wrong material as their filament materials yield different surface results. The part was a mess and the representative didn’t even want to show it to me. While I am sure their F series machines can come up with an acceptable representation of my model they did not when it counted and also the machine we are talking about starts at $20 000. Their mark up is insane as well, as I saw the spread sheet (probably unintentional by the rep). The filament cost is actually $45 and they are selling it for $220 the support material is not much cheaper if at all!
This is what gets me going but I’m pulling the brakes here. That shows us how much mark up there is.
I am sure we could get a much better price on all Formlabs’ resins while Formlabs would still make a good profit. Of course as long as people are buying it why change the prices…
The model that came from my $3500 + Shipping,Tax machine had the best detail and surface quality of all the objects I was able to compare it with. Machines from $20,000 all the way up to $300,000 were not capable of creating the same smooth surface and detail - Polyjet parts can be very smooth but they need to have an extra coating applied and I only saw that on a spherical object without fine details. Some of those filament parts were also very nice especially for filament but still failed to match the quality of the Form 2 result.
I need to stress here that the Stratasys machines are very good machines, and have beaten everything else I had in the line up, the Polyjet technology especially. However pricing of those systems is simply ridiculous.
Not to get into the apples and oranges deal, my comparison is strictly based on the Part result compared to the machine prices.
The Form 2 beat everything I saw in terms of detail and surface smoothness. If I am looking at machines with prices one can buy a brand new car for or even an entire house and they can’t compete with a $3500 machine in terms of detail and surface quality, seems more than pathetic!
At that kind of price there is no justification for not thriving to get the best surface and detail quality possible.
As I have seen Stratasys’ Filament machines (not the u-print that one is garbage!) they are capable of very nice finishes and detail, if used by someone who knows what he/she’s doing. Whoever goes for a “purpose built” machine needs to think twice.
There will be plenty people calling me out on the building size of a machine - while more building volume would need a larger machine therefore machine cost will be going up, is logical but having a $3500 machine build something an $80,000+ machine can’t is not logical, regardless of technology or and footprint.
I have requested a sample part from the Fuse 1 but it looks like it’s still too deep in the development phase as this would also be a nice test-machine. Laser Sintering typically results in a rough surface, depending on the system’s layout that roughness is more or less. Steel and plastic parts coming off of those types of machines can be smoothed in a vibratory tub, which is a machine that’s filled with a water-solution and different types of abrasives, ranging from nut-shells to ceramic particles. The parts are thrown into the tub and the vibration will work the abrasives around the parts and slowly smooth out the surface some fine detail will get lost or diminish but it yields a decent result over all. Plastic parts made with Nylon type material will do quite well in a vibratory tub. Laser sintering won’t beat the detail and surface quality of the Form 2 but it still can get good detail if part scale is taken into account.
As for building large with the Form 2 the rather silly PR Stunt in New York showing a large “lens” with a cut-out heart in the center proves that the From 2 can build whatever one wants it to build…theoretically at least. While I would choose something better for a PR Stunt to really showcase what my system can do it for sure showed that a small footprint is not limited to its building volume .
The key is to show the detail capability and its surface capability within a large object, one needs to [lay out the machines strength! - as well as different materials in combination - a simple square shape like those parts that “lens” was made of hardly do that job. I am aware of some of the promo videos for different types of material…none of them particularly striking. As well as a set of simple ball point pens to promote the Form 2’s production capability does little to showcase its true capabilities.
Pricing of the 3D systems…The Form 2 is an expensive machine looking at it’s small footprint, simplicity and materials.
Comparing it to a real printer (inkjet) capable of printing canvasses the size of 42” in width we are looking at a machine that is pretty big at almost 6 feet in length, and 4 feet in height with many moving parts over a distance of 4 feet, complicated mechanisms, polished steel parts, an intricate and complicated print head for 9+ colors, which costs about the same as the Form 2, puts things back in perspective.
So even at the “low cost” of $3500 the Form 2 is not a cheap machine.
Machines that are capable of similar detail and surface, like the well known B9 Creator is quite a bit more expensive while sporting a smaller build volume making the Form 2 one of the least expensive machines (quality machines that is).
Taking the F170 Stratasys’ 10”x10”x10” (build Volume) Filament machine, starting at $19900 and measuring 64”x34”x28”. It has a heated chamber, which keeps temperature consistent and prevents parts from warping or peeling, we have our heated tank to keep resin temperature consistent in the Form 2. I’m using the F170 because it’s the least expensive machine in their line-up (that’s capable). It’s got a large drawer on the bottom that holds the filament reels, from there the filament is being fed to the dispense nozzle.
Formlabs FUSE 1 that has been in the making has a base price of $10,000 all the way up to $20,000. It’s got a bit more than half the build volume of the F170 at 6.5”x6.5”x12.5”.
The F170 can handle 3 different materials all pretty good in strength.
I’m sure the Fuse 1 eventually will be able to handle multiple materials at one point as well. Not having seen a sample part of the Fuse 1 yet it’s tough to say, which one of the 2 systems is superior in detail and surface capability. The Fuse 1 will have a big advantage and that’s NO SUPPORTS. While The F170 still needs supports but they are water soluble, meaning the part can be thrown in a tank that washes off all the supports.
The Fuse 1 is priced at $20,000 when buying the machine an extra build container and post production station is included ($10,000 the machine only).
The F170 is also priced at $20,000 but doesn’t come with the cleaning tank which is an extra $3500. Then Stratasys throws a whole bunch of useless services in at extra cost, few thousand dollars, like “INSTALLING” and “TRAINING” as if those machines need installation and training. They are simple and straight forward. The machine arrives, one reels it into place, plugs it in sets the filament, push go, that’s it. They do waive that if one asks them to, also a special warranty plan is in place — 100% useless unless the manufacturer doesn’t believe in its own machines…or simply a “clever” way of making money… So in essence the F170 will be more expensive it also uses up plastic trays where the parts are being built on (like our Form 2 vat, just much cheaper).
Stratasys’ F170 at a price of around $25,000 (cutting out all the useless garbage) is more expensive than the Fuse 1 but has almost twice the build volume…the question now, which one is more expensive to run and which one ends up being the more reliable machine with nicer detail capabilities…since we have not seen the Fuse 1 in the open yet. I am sure Formlabs will get this machine to work well maybe with some hiccups at the beginning but it will end up working well. Almost twice the build volume for the F170 is a big draw…
There is always a give and take when it comes to the different technologies - however what good is an $80,000+ machine when it can’t pull even with a $3500 machine in part quality…?