I’d be thrilled if Formlabs looked at this new legislation as an opportunity to take a leadership position in empowering customers with more accessible field repair options.
In that vein, I want to share some of my personal experiences.
One thing I’ll credit the company, their Support team is really great at providing help and knowledge regarding old products. You can send them a question about a Form 1 printer that’s been out of warranty for years and still get an answer.
On the other hand, the difficulty sourcing replacement parts can be a pain point that leaves you dead in the water. I got bitten by this when my Form 1+ laser died. I got the sense Support really wished they could do more for me, but couldn’t since they’d stopped stocking them. It took months of digging and a few failed attempts rolling dice on components from the USA and China before I finally found a Peopoly laser that was a (mostly) suitable replacement. It’s a smidgen more powerful than the original, which results in slight over-curing with some resins. The firmware has a placeholder for laser power calibration data, but unfortunately it’s under the manufacturer’s lock-and-key and I haven’t yet figured out how to modify it. In the good old days, adjusting something like this would be as simple as turning a potentiometer with a screwdriver.
In the meantime I’ve been using OpenFL to experiment with exposure-related modifications to the resin profile instead. One surprise: it turned out the third-party replacement laser outputs a cleaner beam than the original, and I’m getting better results in “OpenFL Black” than the stock unit ever achieved in any resin. So my heartfelt thanks to whoever at Formlabs made OpenFL happen. As the Form 2 approaches sunsetting, I really hope something similar will be released for it as well. I’m convinced I could derive improved results for other materials, too, if Formlabs released a few baseline resin profiles beyond just Clear. Maybe they feel it’s “secret sauce”, but to be frank a serious competitor could reverse-engineer it anyway (there are already charts users put together inferring relative laser powers for different materials) and I think the real value in the company is elsewhere (material libraries, technological innovations, etc).
There have also been instances when sending back a broken printer simply wasn’t worth the shipping, and I wanted to attempt an in-house repair. They have field guides for several replaceable components, but some are still conservatively “off limits”. Ironically, once after a resin spill I did send back a printer and paid for the refurbishment, but the quality of their repair job was dismal. I wound up disassembling, cleaning and reassembling the refurb unit myself. More recently I repaired my own heater cable (a small weekend project that avoided another costly round-trip shipment and refurb bill) and took that opportunity to fine-tune the leveling on my tank carrier - to the point where I was getting better dimensional accuracy on that Form 2 than I was at the time from my new Form 3.
I recognize these testimonials venture way beyond the scope of what Formlabs advises or supports, and folks like me who like to really dial-in the machines may only represent a fraction of Formlabs’ customer base. And not all of my self-service adventures have worked out (I utterly destroyed a Form 1+ laser lens once while trying to drill out and replace the worn out laser diode).
But hopefully on the whole my stories go to show there really is opportunity to squeeze some more functional life out of these printers. A few minor tweaks by Formlabs would make that so much easier.
The replaceable LPU introduced in the Form 3 feels like a step in that direction (although whether it achieves that aim may depend on the price point - I hope they wind up selling them a little cheaper than the US$799 seen on the customs and duties declarations).
Instead of a service plan, I’d love to put that premium toward buying some key spare parts to keep on hand, so when Murphy inevitably strikes on a Friday night I can take action and get printing again immediately without having to wait three or four sleeps for an initial response (in fact I already stock a few parts like Form 2 mirrors scavenged off eBay, a replacement optical window, touchscreen panel, etc. - some of those can be purchased as special cart items if you ask nicely).
When I buy a piece of equipment like this I’d like to get at least 10 years of service out of it. Especially when we get into the $10-25k+ price ranges of recent offerings (3L, Fuse, Sift). If it breaks after 3-4 years and you have to throw it out, it starts to feel little different than those junkier “disposable” printers flooding the market from China.
I think Formlabs has a great opportunity here to further differentiate itself from the lower-end brands. Their impressive human capital has already got them halfway there; some more options in terms of replacement parts would win the home stretch.