Introducing High-volume, Low-labor 3D Printing for Mass Production
The new Formlabs Automation Ecosystem automates steps in the 3D printing process, aiming to provide low-cost, hands-free, and time-saving 3D printing of parts for mass production.
For a variety of industries (such as aerospace, medical devices, automotive, and tool-making), 3D printing is an attractive method for the production of parts. The ability to use computer-aided design (CAD) allows designers to assess and modify object/part models before printing. If a part needs to be redesigned, an online model of the part can be tweaked quickly, which can save valuable production time. Despite this, 3D printing is still slow in its adoption. The cost of printing materials and the need for trained additive manufacturing (AM) engineers are considered to be some of the key reasons for this.
3D printing is slow in its adoption, however, it could serve as an affordable and less wasteful alternative to CNC machining and injection modling. Image used courtesy of Formlabs
Traditional manufacturing methods, such as computerized numerical control (CNC) machining and injection molding, are known to be effective for the mass production of parts with low complexity. While the wide range of tools available for CNC machining can lead to higher-quality product finishes than 3D printing, these tools can be expensive. CNC machining is also a subtractive process, where the cutting away of material to achieve a desired shape of a part can lead to high material wastage.
The Formlabs Automation Ecosystem allows users to automate printing tasks and manage printer fleets. Image used courtesy of Formlabs
Formlabs Automation Ecosystem from Formlabs reduces the manual nature of 3D printing, automating steps in the process that could help businesses save on time, as well as labor and material resources while maximizing production. The ecosystem combines a 3D-printer management tool in the form of the Fleet Control suite, a hardware extension (called Form Auto) allowing for the automatic removal of printer parts before further printing, and a High Volume Resin System for expanding the existing resin capacity of a stereolithography (SLA, resin) printer and reducing packaging waste by over 90 percent.
Form Auto connects to every Form 3/B/+ printer and, using the Build Platform 2's patented Quick-Release Technology, lifts the printer lid, removes parts from the printer, disengages them from the platform, and places them into a holding bin for washing.
Without user intervention, the platform is automatically reset, and the next printing round can begin. An onboard camera records part release, allowing users to monitor their production remotely from anywhere within their working environment or home.
Form Auto is designed to free up operators from the task of part removal, which can save on valuable printing and production time, as well as redirect work towards higher-value tasks. High-volume printing can be executed without an internet connection when using Form Auto in Local Mode. Outside of the cloud, customers can still use Form Auto for print operations for added privacy and security.
A video providing an overview of the Formlabs Automation Ecosystem. Video used courtesy of Formlabs
Within the Formlabs PreForm and Dashboard software offerings, customers can use the Fleet Control suite to manage and orchestrate printing for a fleet/group of Form 3 Generation printers and across multiple users.
If a printing job requiring the same materials as a previous job needs to be executed, features within the Fleet Control suite can automate the identification and allocation of a suitable printer for the job. Fleet Control not only allows visibility in terms of which printer is available but also enables the identification of printers that are well-stocked with the right consumables for a given job.
The automation of such operator-controlled tasks can help save decision-making time and prevent the unnecessary action of resetting or cleaning a printer using different materials than required by the next job. Material costs can be reduced and wasteful consumption of materials can be avoided. Printer surfaces and components can also be protected somewhat by the gradual wear and tear incurred by constantly changing consumable materials.
The Build Platform 2's patented Quick-Release Technology lifts the printer lid, removes parts from the printer, disengages them from the platform, and places them into a holding bin for washing. Images adapted and used courtesy of Formlabs
High Volume Resin System
The new High Volume Resin System from Formlabs ensures that printer consumables are continually stocked. Operators receive notifications from Fleet Control and Dashboard, signaling when consumables are nearly depleted so that they can be replaced before the end of a shift. The resin system can hold five liters of material in one chamber. This can allow printing to continue for days without delays caused by the unnecessary changeover of materials. An integrated Resin Pump enables more rapid and efficient dispensing.
The Formlabs Automation Ecosystem aims to provide low-cost, hands-free, and time-saving 3D printing of parts for mass production. As 3D printing because more automated and reduces cost per part compared to traditional mass production means, adoption of the manufacturing method may see more widespread use.