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After an up-and-down year where Formlabs successfully raised $2,945,885 and was later sued by market leader 3D Systems, their first-in-class, stereolithography-based 3-D printer is finally slated to ship. The team has been busy setting up their supply chain and tweaking the design since the campaign was concluded in October, but have ordered components, and the plan is to deliver units to eager backers starting in April.
Most impressively, the project is basically on time. Some backers were supposed to receive Form 1 3-D printers starting in February, but the majority were promised for April. The team that created the first hobby-grade high-accuracy printer also seems to have mastered the art of high-accuracy forecasting.
There are still some challenges to overcome. Formlabs owes 1,018 printers to their supporters and one of the most highly funded tech projects in Kickstarter’s history will surely face a great deal of scrutiny once in the hands of users. Formlabs co-founder and CEO Maxim Lobovsky is excited about shipping the first wave of 3-D printers to enthusiasts. “Kickstarter exceeded our expectations,” he says. “It definitely gets scary when dealing with larger numbers, but higher volumes also help things get cheaper.”
Unlike rival MakerBot, Lobovsky says Formlabs has no plans to open their own factory. “The success of the Kickstarter certainly helped cement our decision to use a contract manufacturer rather than setting up our own facility.” he says, but notes that the Form 1 is being assembled in the United States.
The close proximity to the factory has paid off, even if the labor costs are a little higher. “We definitely had a few last-minute changes,” says Lobovsky. “For instance, after sheet metal production started, we found a bug. It would have worked, but it would have caused some failures. We worked with the manufacturing shop and were able to make the fix.”
Even with the deadline quickly approaching, improvements are still being made. “One thing we’re hoping to do a little different than other consumer electronics companies is to continue to tweak the product.” says Lobovsky. “A lot of companies are loath to touch a design once it works, but almost every component has been touched. We did a a few things to improve the accuracy of the build platform and improved laser driver. We’ve also made some aesthetic improvements, like figuring out how to make a seam smoother or smaller. We’ve changed finishes to make things look better. We’re going to do some laser etching for branding that we weren’t originally planning on.”
Lobovsky is equally passionate about technology and improvements that customers will never see. “We’ve done a lot since the Kickstarter with our manufacturing software, tooling, and processes,” says Lobovsky. “We have amazing automated production software — we’re able to test every function of the device on the manufacturing line and drop the results into a database. Our goal is to keep making our system more accurate with lower-cost components.”
What’s next for Formlabs once the hardware ships? “One really great thing about shipping the hardware is that we’re now focusing heavily on materials and software.”
For those that missed out on the Kickstarter and early pre-orders, a batch of Form 1 printers shipping in May are for sale for $3,299.