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Deviating from our regular FFF discussion to take a dive into the SLA world with an interview with Dávid Lakatos of Formlabs. He shares about the history of 3D printing and the professional design economy era that he sees 3D printers moving towards. As the industry moves past the disillusionment period into the Age of Design and a freelance gig economy there’s a gap between the technology and user skill set.
He’s really a big deal at Formlabs and I think this is great we’re able to get him to come on the podcast. He’s in charge of all their product development and has a quite a history in 3D printing in Eastern Europe with one of the first FabLabs, which of course came out of MIT.
His focus is on nanoscience. He’s from Budapest University of Technology and Economics. He has an MS in Media Arts and Sciences from MIT. He’s got a great background. He also had a company that was a peer to peer selling service that was acquired by Dropbox. He’s quite successful in and of himself. We know Formlabs has been just going gang buster and doing so well on its own.
It’s a very interesting discussion where we learn more about yes, Formlabs, the printer itself through this interview. But really, he gets into where the Form 2 or an SLA 3D printer really fits in the whole process. He doesn’t really believe it’s an either or situation, but that a lot of these different technologies and machines are complimentary to each other. Really gets into what is rapid prototyping through this discussion and where these different machines fit in the process.
We keep saying that sometimes it’s associated not just with your process, but with your what. That’s what we keep saying is complimentary between all of these technologies. We felt it was really important to cover SLA. This was our best opportunity to do that. Let’s hear from Dávid.
Listen to the podcast here:
SLA Rapid Prototyping with Dávid Lakatos of Formlabs
Dávid, thank you so much for joining us on the podcast today. We’re very excited to speak with someone from Formlabs.
Thank you very much for having me.
We typically talk about FFF here and not so much about other types of 3D print technology. But we’ve been fascinated by the Formlabs machine for quite some time. Can you tell us a little bit of the major differences between the two, from an SLA perspective?
I usually like to do a bit of education, although I’m sure your listeners are well equipped. I always think about 3D printing is one of the three main technologies in additive manufacturing of 3D printing. There’s FDM or FFF. The concept, is of course, as you probably know, that you have an extruder head and three axis entry, it goes around. Very much like a very sophisticated glue gun, deposits layer after layer to 3D printed model.
SLA is pretty different. It’s the sci-fi version of FDM. You use a laser with a photopolymer resin. Photopolymer is a great word because it explains the whole thing. A photo, you take a light and you cure polymer with it. Actually stereolithography probably is even better word of course, because you a make a solid with light. That’s where stereolithography comes from.
You take a photosensitive resin and you cure it with a laser. You move the laser light with small mirrors called goggles very quickly across the surface and you iteration, layer after layer. You cure layers together.
The third technology is an SLS, which is totally different world, with powder. These are the three major or mainstream 3D printing technologies that you can buy today. There are other ones of course, but I like to start with these three just to give people a bit of footing in what are the different technologies in 3D printing.
I think it’s great we definitely could use a review here because we really focused so heavily on FFF or FDM. I think the most interesting part about it is really getting into the benefits of what SLA rapid prototyping can do because I think that from our perspective, that’s where we’ve really seen it taking off with a lot of other industrial designers and product designers.
I’m originally a physicist engineer, not a marketer. I like to talk about the technology end. I think these are complementary technologies in my mind, not competing technologies. Let’s start with FDM. I think the place where FDM is right now is really interesting. That is the technology that seems to have created really a long tail in its implementation and price points and everything. It’s the most widely used technology today.
It’s due to the simplicity of the mechanism extruder too, just the out of the shaft components that a lot of lower cost manufacturers can use. It’s really a platform for bringing good enough on the very lower end price point, a good enough 3D printing technology to the market. Where SLA comes into the mix is, especially with Formlabs machines, is taking the most high precision and most versatile set of materials and bringing it all the way down to the $3,500 price point that Formlabs offers their machines.
Those are the two most important things that I think we should zoom in on. When it comes to SLA, really the precision comes from the laser spot size. In our machine’s case, that’s 140 micrometers of the laser spot size. That is what’s defining basically. I don’t want to correlate it exactly to minimum feature size but it’s very closely related on that order of magnitude, is the minimum feature size that we can really get out of.
By the way, that’s a whole very interesting conversation. What minimum feature size means, accuracy means for all of these machines. Even comparing between two technologies is very interesting conversation that we can go in to.
Or from machine to machine as we’ve seen so often.
Exactly, I think you can have entire podcast just for that conversation. I’m not going to go into that.
I think we have actually. Let’s cover, just in a brief way, cover this minimum feature size thing. When we talk about FFF machines all the time, it’s really nozzle size is probably what that comes down to, into what fraction of a millimeter that nozzle is. The term you used for the minimum feature size seem to be a different term. When you say micrometers, could you define that for us?
Sure. Without going too much into the optics of it, it’s actually fairly simple. I think the spot size of the laser is actually very closely related to something like the nozzle size. It’s the de facto, most measurable thing that you’re relating whatever feature is coming out the machine. Similarly to FDM where you have a nozzle in your mouth material, when it comes out, you squirt out basically the material. It ends up expanding, it ends up flowing in directions that you don’t intend to.
The actual minimum feature size is likely going to be greater than that nozzle size. That’s somewhat true for our machine as well, but for us it’s much more predictable because you take a laser spot size and when you cure it, we have it down to the firmer level. We control how much time the laser spot stands above a unit area of resin. That decides how much of the curing … Curing basically is somewhat uniformly from the center of the spot size.
This is where we maybe can go into a little bit about what happens under the hood. A photopolymer is basically just chains, long chain of monomers and oligomers floating around. When the laser hits a specific part of a resin, which has photoinitiators in them, the photoinitiators create free radicals that connect these monomers and oligomers and form polymer chains. That’s when the liquid turns into a solid. That happens at the threshold, when there’s enough energy that’s induced into the system through the laser.
Which is why it looks like it’s just forming right out of the goo.
The technical term, there you go.
I want to get to a little bit though, the properties that are just why SLA seems to be the preferred industrial design machine. I can’t tell you how many labs I’ve been in recently or whatever you want to call them, the shops, they used to be shops, now they’re more like labs in industrial design firms and things like that where they really are using the Formlabs and preferring it.
I’m very glad to hear that, first of all. Second, I think the reason, one of them is the accuracy. The accuracy in the minimum feature size, the surface finish that you can get with these machines is, they just not followable with most lower cost FDM machines or even the higher ones. You can get very smooth surfaces, you can get extremely intricate details that you just can get to with an extruding technology.
The other one is material properties. Because we are so much in control of this photochemistry and the photopolymers that we are producing … We have actually on our team, just a little bit of background, we are right now 180 or so people and we have a materials team of fifteen people. Fifteen material scientists continually working on new materials that are from the bottom up. We start with a specification that everyone can make a material with these modules, this ultimate tensile strength, this heat deflection temperature, all of the things that are customers are interested in.
Then we work towards that specification. That is not really possible with most of the FDM machines. Once you have already created a solid material, you can melt it underneath to re-melt but the material properties are somewhat sad. We are really controlling that material property down to the chemistry level.
That’s why we can have general purpose materials that are great for general purpose prototyping. That’s why we can have a flexible material that is great for textile applications where you want handles and over molds and stuff like that. We have castable material for jewelers, which specifically burns out at a temperature and then you can use the same process of casting as you would use with lost wax casting. We have these gamut of materials all the way to a material that we really used just recently that is a bio-compatible material, that you can use for dental surgeries. You can actually use it in surgical guides as of this April.
How cool is that?
That spectrum of application is only possible because we have a technology that’s very precise and we have a technology that enables us to really spend these chemistries and really go down to the last detail of how you want to formulate these materials.
So cool. I have a question about materials and the application of them. Obviously, you’ve got quite an incredible team developing materials. I like actually that the materials are being developed by the same company making the machine. That doesn’t often happen it seems in this industry.
Isn’t the technology limited to just one material per print though, or is there something new coming up in 3D prototyping using SLA that you might be able to have a single print that actually has a flexible material and a more solid material in the same print?
That’s a really good question. I have a fairly strong opinion about that so sorry ahead of time.
That’s okay. We like strong opinions here. Don’t worry about that.
Basically, your question is, can you do multi-material SLA? The very simple answer is that yes, of course you can. There are many research laboratories that have done it. Honestly, one of my favorite 3D printers in the world in the Formlabs machines is the Connex series that already do, I think with the PolyJet, to do multi-material printing and specifically flexible and rigid in one print.
I like it because it’s super cool. But I think the big problem is that there’s no CAD software really that helps you design for that. That’s not how most people design their assemblies. At the very end, it’s not really integrated into the manufacturing process. As a show off in technology, as an interesting design tool.
I went to the media lab at MIT. I love cutting edge technology that we can use for an amazing demo that inspires people. For that, these machines are amazing. Because you can make the most outlandish design prototypes and beautiful pieces that then really inspires your mind to go to all sorts of ways. After that, you come back to an average engineer’s desk and you don’t find problems that they’re trying to solve with technologies like that
That’s really interesting because we have this bent here. We have our own strong opinions, but we have a strong opinion that we really believe that some of the power in 3D printing is when we can just come straight off the machine into final product. It’s the right color, it’s the right material, it has all the right properties and maybe it needs to have multiple materials in order to achieve that. There’s no assembly required. It just comes right out and it’s ready to go.
That’s our ultimate direction to how we do it. It’s honestly how we FFF. We print here. We don’t really do any post finishing if possible. Sometimes, you have to break off a raft and a few things like that. But we don’t really do anything that requires post finishing here. We’ve always been looking for multiple materials because of multicolor options.
The reality is that you’re right, the software is the hang up. We’ve found that to be the case. We have machines that can achieve it but the software fails miserably. Your average designer and engineer can’t design to that. We design to that because I have a textile and color background. It’s our thing in the way that we do things.
You’re right, it’s really a problem that the software doesn’t keep up and it’s not ready yet for that. Most people aren’t ready to design for that.
What I’m trying to always point to is that most of the FDM machines that I know have multiple, not even two, but four, however many nozzles. What I see coming out of them is rainbow colored stuff that it’s really just like basically a tie-dye of random walking colors because people don’t actually use the capability. It’s literally just to make it funky.
I think that’s cool. I think 3D printing, if anything, is about you always have pieces. It’s not Play-Doh, it’s Legos or Kinects. It’s very intentional. That’s my demonstration of the mismatch in capability to design ability.
That’s a great point, I agree with you. The FFF machines that have either multiple nozzles or they’re feeding multiple materials into one nozzle have the capability, physically, to do much more than they actually can do because of the software limitations. It is a big issue.
It’s because they don’t invest any money in design. They just pump out whatever they think is the easiest out of the machine because they’re not designers there. They don’t invest to the design libraries. Design is one aspect of it, but I think there’s also the slicing software limitations. It is a weakness in the situation.
I want to go back though to the material properties a little bit. We’ve stayed a little bit away from photopolymers because in our experience it breaks down overtime. Has your material scientists changed that?
Photopolymers in general or?
Photopolymers in general, we understand, are perfect for use for fast prototyping or rapid prototypes of any kind when you’re making a model. But for making something that two years from now is going to have the same properties that it does now, our understanding, and correct us if we’re wrong, but our understanding was that just the materials themselves, the resins, actually break down overtime. They don’t have the same properties when you first print them a few years later, is that correct?
I would go back to just in general. I definitely have this memory from back home in Hungary where you have really old equipment at your university, really old computers and their keyboards are a little bit yellow. That is honestly exactly what’s going on. Almost all plastics, let that be 3D printing or non 3D printing plastics, a lot of them degrade overtime. There’s a really interesting chemistry there but I think for another day.
In general, SLA is a rapid prototyping platform. I think when you’re looking to really have not just a functional prototype, but an actual rapid manufacturing scenario where you want the final product out of your 3D printer. Often I would say that if you really want to use that for years and years and not just test drive it and beta test it, a lot of times not just SLA but 3D printing is not necessarily the right way to go.
Of course, there is metal 3D printing but some FDM prints also get yellower and unstable overtime. Certainly, that’s the case for SLA as well. Part of it is coming from the chemistry background. Since we are working with radical polymerization, it’s just that the polymerization doesn’t stop necessarily after you’ve printed. There are parts of the material that may have still some of the photoinitiator in them that continues to cure the material and that can lead to overtime, like over a year or many months, lead to degradations.
I think the important part here is that, I think it’s a problem if you’re using it, for really giving final, final pieces to your customers and you want them to use it for years. I think that SLA in general is probably not the right way to go.
It’s perfectly good for you to use it at a trade show, show it off and then replace it with the final product when it’s ready in productions. I can see why it’s being adapted by so many designers and rapid prototype firms.
I think about this always from left to right. From an engineer’s perspective, you start with a concept, an idea. Whatever you’re designing. Some people like sketching, some people go straight to CAD and they put something rough down. I think the whole point, that’s the reason why 3D printing has been around for 20, 30 years and it’s just getting started and growing like crazy because it just works.
It makes people’s life faster, it makes the design process faster, it gets you to a more sophisticated, a more tested and a higher percentage of a successful product coming out if you use 3D printing in the rapid prototyping and design process. From left to right, you go through ideation, you go through initial concepts and you go through fit and finish, you go through spot checks. Getting close to the manufacturing pre-production, that’s when you probably want to switch to another technology.
That’s why I’m saying that a lot of these are complementary technologies. Maybe after that you switch to an SLS machine. Maybe after that you go and actually make an aluminum CNC version of your molds. That’s when you start to actually gear up to manufacturing. It’s all about choosing the right technology for the right process.
Our definition of the Form 2 specifically, it’s really the best professional high precision tool for rapid prototyping. For exactly the bridging from an idea all the way through the very last moments of pre-production. That’s our bread and butter.
I think that’s great. I think you guys do a great job there. I want to switch gears a little bit. You were the co-founder of FabLab Budapest. That was the first rapid prototyping lab in Central and Eastern Europe. I think that’s so fascinating. How did that grow and how quickly did that grow?
I’m glad that that’s a piece of history that people are interested in. I’m very happy to tell you about it. I’m not sure that probably at least some of your listeners haven’t heard about Neil Gershenfeld and the FabLab movement in general. The whole thing starts in the 2000s when Neil Gershenfeld who was a professor at MIT, the media lab. He starts his concept to FabLabs.
Actually, I will tie that back to the Formlabs story because that’s actually where the company is coming from, Neil Gershenfeld’s lab. The media lab and Neil’s vision was, what if you take industrial tools and you democratize and you give it to everybody? What if an engineer or just an average person who likes to make things suddenly has access to what’s on the shop floor at BMW or Apple? What if you have the same capabilities, the same CNCs, the same laser cutters and you just can go nuts with them and pay a tiny fee, like 20 bucks a week, to come in to a workshop anywhere in the world and get access to these equipments?
That’s the thesis behind FabLabs. Me and a couple of my friends were really inspired by this. We build a FabLab in Budapest. I don’t even know how, looking back at it. It was so unnatural for that time in Hungary in general to be able to do this. We succeeded at getting a couple of laser cutters, a few 3D printers, a CNC. We put them all in a space. We worked on a couple of projects for companies to keep the lights on. We just started accepting people from off the street after a quick training, for a nominal fee of, I think it was close to 20 bucks a week.
You could come in, you have to bring your own stock. You got access to all of these tools. Laser cutters, 3D printers and everything else. It was a huge success. It’s up still today, many years. I think at this point it’s like six years later. It’s still up and running. There are many people who everyday go there. Students, makers, engineers who have a side project or they have a company that can’t afford yet a workshop. They come there and they work every day and it’s amazing to see.
The first couple of weeks, when I was still living in Hungary, an old gentleman came in. He came in on a rollerblade and he came in and then he said that, “One of my wheels, they broken.” He laser cut in pieces and then glued together a new wheel and then polished it. In three hours, he rolled out with the old bearings but the new wheel. That was super inspiring.
That’s great. One of the things that we were fascinate about, one of our very first interviews that we did for the podcast was down at a FabLab in San Diego. We were really fascinated with the age range of people that came into it. It was old and young. It was just such a nice mix of the community with all different interest levels. Some more on the design side, some more on the engineering side, some more on just wanted to get their hands dirty and make things. I just loved the environment and I think that it’s done so much for the 3D print movement in general as well as makers overall.
Absolutely, I can’t agree more. For Formlabs, I always use the FabLab methodology to explain to new people or new people starting as Formlabs or just visiting. What is the vision for Formlabs or where are we going? I just go back and say that what we are really good at and what I think we learned as a group is that jump, when you take a technology and you don’t compromise on the quality, but you achieve a magnitude or two and decrease in price with however you can do it. That just creates magic. It helps people really think differently about the tool.
I definitely have seen with our customers that they really have superpowers after they got a bit of our machines. Because before that, they have to go out to a service bureau, they had to go through their internal shop. Having this technology really dedicated to you or your team is extremely powerful. It’s exactly the same feeling as when somebody at FabLab has access to a technology that they probably heard about in a magazine that it exists. But they just never knew that it exists.
Dávid, thank you so much for coming on the show to talk in-depth on SLA rapid prototyping. At the end of it, we like to ask people who’ve been in the industry a long time, what they think 3D printing needs to move forward more rapidly?
I think it needs a period of peace when everybody concentrates on reliability. I think, we often talk about three eras of 3D printing. One of them is the industrial era. From the 80s, when all the technologies were invented up until the mid-2000s. Mid-2000s when the RepRap and the other guys get started. It was a rapid, rapid technology expansion. I think a lot of disillusionment happened in this period.
A lot of people are now associating 3D printing with gadgets and trinkets. I think the next phase is really professional 3D printing. I hope this doesn’t sound too arrogant because we’re definitely aware if it’s arrogant. That’s not the point. We compare the Form 2 to really the Apple II in a lot of ways. It is really the bridge between what the Apple II was taking mainframe computers to office workstations.
I think this is the next phase in 3D printing. Really concentrating on professionals, on the reliability, on having the ability for an engineer to really not have to worry about their printer working or not, not being a maybe. If I need a part by Friday, then I don’t start stressing out on Tuesday to start printing because I might have to reprint it two times before I get what I want.
That would be awesome. You’re getting a lot of head nods over here. That’s a very good point.
I think if we can get there, I would really wish that that would be the number one goal for everybody. Not to be too cocky, going back to the multiple print head nozzles. I think that is a much better goal short term, because I think the technology, everything is in the right place. It’s a super interesting time for 3D printing. The whole market is still growing crazy. There’s a lot of will from the customers.
But it’s not okay in 2016 anymore to make 3D printers that are not reliable and don’t work. I think honestly, that’s the only thing. A little bit of introspection on everybody’s side and concentrating on the right goal.
Settling down. I liked how you termed that, peace. Settle down a little bit, let us all get a chance to adapt to it, design to it and work with it for a while.
I would say that’s the most important thing. If that can happen, then I think 3D printing is going to go back to where I think it was in people’s mind in the 2012, ‘13 era. Before I think a lot of the disillusionment happened. But the real machines that everybody’s excited about because I think that was missing in that period.
Thank you again so much for spending time with us today.
SLA Rapid Prototyping – Final Thoughts
A lot of times I get surprised when an interview is a lot more fun for me than I think it’s going to be, and this was one of those. I really enjoyed hearing what he had to say and speaking with him. I like how he talked about the different eras of 3D printing. Now, that he thinks not only is more of a little peace, little settling and reflection really on the industry and where it is and whether it could be done is important. But that this next era of a more professional era, as a design professional, I like hearing that.
We keep saying that it’s going to be the age of design. In fact, I can’t tell you how many articles I’ve written about the fact that this is the design economy, the freelancer economy, it’s a gig economy. All of that is going on right now and it’s coalescing into something that is really creating professional tools for any job that you might need to do. Whether it’s for freelancing or for 3D printing or for design or for prototyping, FFF or SLA rapid prototyping. All of those things, it’s just the age at which we need all these things.
Design skills, creating career paths with design backgrounds. It’s necessary everywhere we go today. I keep thinking about it, it’s a renaissance age. You go back and you look at all the things that they used to learn in the age of Renaissance. They had to be well versed in sciences, in arts and all of those things.
We’ve been missing arts for so long but it’s such a necessity. Who doesn’t pick their own PowerPoint templates? There’s a reason why so many of them make me want to gauge my eyes out. It’s because people don’t have any art and design background. Would a basics class kill people nowadays at college? No. It’s a necessity. It’s no longer a, “Oh, you should go study art.” It’s a necessity for business people, it’s a necessity for engineers, it’s necessity for everyone to get a good art and design, just underlying understanding.
Obviously, rapid prototyping plays right in to all that. I want to touch on a couple of things that Dávid said and was talking about in the interview. A lot of which I agreed with. Some of which I actually don’t. I absolutely respect his opinion and I do hope we have him on the show again in the future. I think he’s got a wealth of experience and information to share.
Regarding materials, I’m not a material scientist so just put that caveat out there right now. He did say, the plastics yellow when they age. The ones that cure with photopolymer, that are photopolymers you cure with light tend to age differently. I believe technically they’re thermosets of some kind when it comes to a plastic. They’re not as UV stable. That is also another problem.
Of the two of us, Tracy has a more material background. She has a textile design degree and she could kill me in color and in texture of textiles and fibers. Really, what amount of yarn and textiles are not plastic today? But we’re both not material scientists. You have to learn the chemistry of it.
So many of them have UV stabilizers built into them. There’s actually material science that goes along with that. Those things are counterproductive with the photopolymer UV curing process that’s going on with the lasers. I can see that it may happen. Maybe these material scientists, they got a team of fifteen. Maybe they’ll be able to work out something that will be more long term stable and be able to last more like years than months. I’m sure they will be able to and that’s great. I’m sure they’re making very high quality materials, no question.
That’s not my issue. It’s just that when you think about not just the stability of a material, but the integrity of it, the predictability of it. Not only that but to me, the process of the SLA printing with the liquid resins, it’s a very different process. What I like about it is you push the button to print it and it prints it and it’s done.
You’re not going to have a problem with film and feeding. You’re not going to have a problem with over extrusion and under extrusion and retraction and a lot of the things that those of us in the FFF world have to live with. It’s part of the price you pay for having a lower cost 3D printer I think, among other things.
There’s a whole huge debate to have there that I’m not really going to get into now. The material, I do think they are limitations of these resin materials. In a rapid prototyping sense, I don’t think it matters. If you’re really making a prototype that’s for one step in the process, then so what? That’s great. Or for a series of steps in the process, but it stops off at rapid manufacturing.
I think the real fall off and the problem that we have with that, is that when you look at those materials. It doesn’t matter whether if it’s the FFF materials or the resins. If you cannot get materials that are stable, that are strong enough, that can do all the things that you need to do from a rapid manufacturing standpoint, then you’ve lost the organic designability that we’re able to achieve with 3D printers. It leads us with powders and metals. I’m not just happy with that.
There are plenty of FFF 3D printers out there today that are printing nylon. That are printing polycarbonate. That are printing any different resin you want. Dávid is correct, everything is plastic and probably to a certain degree, all of it is unstable in one way or another.
However, there’s been a lot of development of plastics over a hundred years now, really. I think at least since the 1920s when some of the first plastics were being developed. There’s a lot of advance science in this. You can melt a piece of plastic in a filament of a certain property, whether it’s ABS or it’s polycarbonate or nylon. You have certain properties you can achieve as long as the printing process doesn’t introduce some other element or weakness or pain in the process, which can happen. Which is where that reliability has to happen
I like knowing the material coming out of something that we make, especially if it’s a small toy for a kid. That it’s food safe, FDA approved plastic, that has certain properties you know. You can’t always do that with an SLA printer in the rapid prototyping sense.
This is also another important thing I wanted to say here I was thinking about during that interview, is that we know a company here in Southern California, in the next town over, in Lake Forest, from where we are. They have a Form 1, I think. They don’t have the Form 2. It’s just a predecessor printer. They use it as a part of their manufacturing process. But they’re not manufacturing end use items.
What they’re doing is 3D printing full scale positive forms of skateboard wheels. Because they manufacture skateboard wheels. They use that SLA print in order to make a silicon mold of the skateboard wheel. The way skateboard wheels are actually manufactured is with a special cast resin process of a special resin made, that’s rubbery and translucent colors and all that, has the properties of what a skateboard wheel needs.
Here, it’s involved in an actual production process of an end use product, and used in a very good way. Sometimes they make design changes or little other changes to the wheel. They print a new SLA off of Form 1 and then make a new silicon mold and then that goes into their production process. I wouldn’t even call that a prototype. To me, that’s a pattern. It’s a part of the manufacturing process. It’s not rapid manufacturing.
My point to it is, is that if we get to a stage at which we can do all these amazing designs that creates forms and structures that have never been able to be manufactured before, but we have no stable manufacturing process, with either material limitations or machine and reliability limitations, where we can make consumer safe products straight off the machine, then we’re failing in the 3D printing world.
I want to see what happens from rapid prototyping into rapid manufacturing, where it maintains the integrity of our designs in our product qualities and predictability of materials with proper product testing and the whole thing. That’s where I want to see it go, because that’s the opportunity.
If you’re only using 3D printing for rapid prototypes, if all you’re doing is making a fast prototype with this technology, you really limit the design possibilities, the functional benefits of what it can do. Because manufacturing something in an additive manufacturing process, you have different opportunities that you don’t have when you injection mold something. When you cast something in metal, you have physical geometric limitations and drafting limitations and complexes. Not to mention the barriers to entry for tooling for those things.
We see another problem happen here. We’ve had that happen when one of our friend designers came and used our machine. In order to use the machine, they created geometries that cannot be molded or cannot be created with traditional manufacturing techniques. Then they create this amazing prototype that their clients are really happy with. But it can’t be made, because they did things with the machine without the capability and understanding of the manufacturing process that it’s going to end up in. We need a process that it won’t matter. That they translate back and forth.
I respect Dávid and his perspective so much. Formlabs has done an amazing job. They make a wonderful product and it provides tremendous value for a large industrial and design, professional segment of the market. That’s great. But it fits in certain places and maybe not in others.
I think the idea of rapid prototyping, it’s been a wonderful thing. That’s where we first discovered 3D printing many years ago. Way too many years ago. For commercial service bureau, is that we used it for rapid prototyping. But then as you get into it, you realize the potential.
Rapid prototyping to me, it’s just the beginning. There’s needs to be 3D printing or additive manufacturing 2.0 or 3.0 where it goes beyond just the prototype. It’s design application and manufacturing and execution. That’s the stage that’s really going to take it out of disillusionment, into something that is really going to be made.
Dávid’s not wrong, it has to stabilize. It also I think needs to be more user friendly. Clearly, FFF 3D printing fits into the education world so well because not everybody who experiences it is going to become a professional. You don’t need to be spending a lot more dollars on machines at that level.
I think also that less expensive machines make it much more accessible. I understand what he’s saying, that there’s no reason for an FFF machine to be made today that doesn’t work very well. That’s one perspective and hopefully they all work well. Someday, soon. Making it accessible to more people is going to be a very good thing for the industry.
It’s a good thing for the iteration process, the ideation process and all of those things that he was talking about in the early rapid prototyping process, the design and development process. I think it’s really good in that stage.
I keep thinking back to the idea that it’s also if these companies don’t stabilize in terms of getting the reliability and all of these things under control, they won’t stabilize in terms of revenue and then investment dollars won’t be freed up to invest in the things that really are necessary to take it to it, which is the design and application features. Really showing what this equipment can do. That’s another really good point.
There are, still surprisingly, so many new startups making new machines. Sometimes, I scratch my head. What’s really different about this machine than other people’s? It seems to be there’s so many “Me too” machines that are being created and companies built around them. Some of them are getting a lot of investment dollars and some are not. I don’t know. Are they really helping or hurting the industry? I think that’s a very debatable point.
I’m so grateful that Dávid came on the show. So grateful to finally have some SLA rapid prototyping to share with you guys. If you have any comments or any questions or other things that you would like to discuss, you can of course make comments in the blog post at 3DStartPoint.com. You can find us anywhere on social media @3DStartPoint.
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