Launched on Kickstarter in 2012, Formlabs’ Form 1 was the first consumer 3D printer to use stereolithographic technology (SLA). The company is back in the spotlight with a revised version, Form 1+, which has a set of new components that should improve the overall printing performance and speed, including a more powerful laser, designed to increase the speed 1.5 times faster.

Table of Contents

Characteristics

  • Printing volume – 125 x 125 x 125 x 165 mm
  • Screen – yes
  • Heating plate
  • Wifi – no

Presentation

SLA technology has been around for a while, and somewhat renowned for its quality, but still rare to find products under 5000 €. This is a point that distinguishes the Form 1+ from its sisters, who are often more expensive. However, a 3D printer at 4000 € is still inaccessible for many individuals, but the quality has a price. Another point that differentiates Form 1+ from other models for private individuals is that the consumable is a liquid photosensitive resin and not a filament.

Ergonomy

Elegant design, aluminium and transparent plastic, contained size (30 x 28 x 45 cm). The Form 1+ can be easily be placed on a desk due to its weight and build. It has a minimalist display and a single control button. Its printing volume is 125 x 125 x 125 x 165 mm. The height of the layers can be set at 0.1 mm, 0.05 mm and 0.025 mm. The horizontal resolution depends on the optical system, but also the chemical properties of the resin.

Namely, it is advisable to produce wall thicknesses of 300 microns, which does not limit the printing detail, which can reach 10 microns.

The Form1+ bundle includes a 1-year warranty, instructions, European power cable, disposable nitrile glove bag, cutting pliers, tweezers, spatula, two cleaning trays, absorbent sponges, resin tray (silicone bottom tray), construction platform, 1 litre of black resin, USB cable and Preform software to prepare your prints.

While the pack is very generous, three key elements are missing before embarking on the adventure: isopropyl alcohol (IPA) bottle to remove residual resin from the parts, a resin filter (a comb will do) and a UV chamber. If the choice not to provide the UV chamber allows the consumer to choose the one that suits him, at least the presence of the IPA and the resin filter would have been appreciated. Some precautions should be taken when using the API and resin, including wearing gloves and using in a well-ventilated room.

The choice of consumable is, of course, less rich than in the case of filament printers, and the fact that it is proprietary does not help. There are currently transparent, white, grey, black, calcinable and flexible resins, all of which have different mechanical properties. Count 135 €/litre. Other companies are beginning to offer less expensive and “compatible” resins with Form1+.

Pre-printing

Form1+ does not require any hardware calibration, its Plug’n Play. Simply pour the resin into the tray and go directly to the software part.

The proprietary Preform software supports STL, obj and proprietary form files. It allows you to view your part, place it on the platform and manage the supports (support structures) before printing. The supports can be generated automatically, but also manually to refine and optimise the amount of resin that will be used for them or to help the software place the supports in complex situations. However, manual retouching requires a little experience before it can be used. Otherwise, it is better to keep the automatic mode.

The base (raft) is composed of shapes designed to facilitate the insertion of the spatula during the disbonding phase of the parts. The supports take the appearance of branches, which helps to limit the loss of resin. It is possible to control the fineness of the branches, those of the contact points, their density, the thickness of the base, etc.

Note that the user has no control over the internal filling/meshing of the solid. For good reason, it seems that there are too few requests to motivate Formlabs to integrate it. Also, the choice to limit functionality is also there to ensure the “user-friendly” side. However, this method saves a large amount of resin if a “drain hole” is provided. Indeed, for a closed volume, it is necessary to take care beforehand to draw an outlet to evacuate the resin (drain hole), without which it will remain trapped.

Printing

Once the printing is started, the printer will scan the surface of the tank with its laser to polymerise the first layer. Once it has been created, the printer takes it off the tank by lowering it (peeling phase). The layer then disengages from the bottom of the tank while remaining glued to the manufacturing platform. The manufacturing platform can then be raised by one step (100, 50 or 25 microns depending on the configuration). The printer then continues its cycle by polymerising the new liquid layer slipped into this new space, and so on.

Once the part has been printed, it is necessary to remove it with the spatula. One or two baths of several minutes in the IPA will be required to remove the residual resin present on the part; the longer it remains there, the more matt the appearance will be. The printed object should then be exposed to ultraviolet light to finalise the surface polymerisation. Finally, all that remains is to use the cutting pliers to remove the support structure. When the contact points are thin enough, they can be broken.

Note :The manufacturer has informed us that when the part to be printed requires a resin volume greater than 200 ml; the printer will stop at 180 ml of resin consumed to allow the user to fill the tank. However, during our first impression, it turned out that the volume of resin required seemed to have been incorrectly calculated (announced at 152 ml for our test skull). Indeed, the printer continued its work while the tray was out of resin. Perhaps the resin had not completely flowed during our manual level check, which led us to mistakenly believe that it was filled. In any case, when this problem occurs, we regret the lack of detection and alert of the resin level.

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Finally, particular attention must be paid to the orientation and lateral position of the part about the printing surface, following the manufacturer’s recommendations. Indeed, it is necessary to take into consideration the peeling phase which must influence our choice.

Flow

It turns out that the type of resin impacts the flow: printing our test part in layers of 100 microns took 1h22 with the white resin and 1h43 with the black one.

As with the other printers tested, the part was made without rafting or support. Typically, the printing speed is evaluated with a filling level of 10% and a layer height of 0.2 mm; but here, the filling level is not adjustable, and the maximum layer thickness is 0.1 mm. If we assume that by dividing the number of layers by two we obtain a printing time half as short, it will take about 40 min with white resin and 50 min with black to complete this task. A job that Ultimaker 2 does in 1 hour and 18 minutes.

As the chemical composition of resins varies from one colour to another, the printing parameters controlled by Formlabs probably have to be adapted according to the polymerisation time of the resins.

Print quality

All prints were made with the highest layer thickness available (100 microns). By reducing it, we will obtain less visible layers and a smoother vertical surface condition.

After cleaning

Visually, the surface condition of the thin walls of our test model is not homogeneous. It is not perfectly smooth either but could be more so by setting the layer thickness to 50 or 25 microns. On the other hand, the surface quality of the horizontal planes is excellent. It is important to consider the colour of the part because black brings out the details and therefore the defects in a significant way.

There is also a deformation of the thin horizontal part in the foreground of our model. This curvature appeared during the final phase of polymerisation in the UV chamber. Due to our configuration, the printed part was exposed to ultraviolet light from above, which resulted in the polymerisation of the upper surface to the detriment of the lower surface. It is therefore important to emit homogeneous radiation to preserve the initial shape of the flexible parts.

Overall, it is clear that the blank result has moved away from the model. Although the first elements we tend to point out are the mechanical properties of the resin, the thesis of tank wear is not ruled out. Indeed, the tank used for the black resin was new at the time of the test, while the one used for the white had undergone a sufficient number of volumes to leave some laser traces.

These results should be tempered, as this type of test is real torture for SLA technology. Indeed, the “peeling” phases involve an optimal orientation of the part (the flat surfaces of the part must be secant to the surface of the tank) and reinforced by supports.

It is in particular thanks to the creation of the layers by a chemical reaction that the surface benefits from a smoothed effect. Therefore, with 25-micron layers, the surface finish is so good that no sanding phase is required. Finally, almost, since there is still the problem of the traces generated by the supports, whose presence is in most cases essential.

To the touch, the feeling of quality is definitely confirmed, as the density of the material is quite different; for the same volume of material, the resin object is much heavier than the one printed with filament printers. It would also appear that black resin is slightly less rigid/more flexible than white resin.

Consumption and noise

With 12 W at rest, 17 W during printing (laser scanning) and 23 W during the waste change, the Form1+ is very energy efficient. For example, a filament printer like the Zortrax M200 requires an average of 48 W when printing.

About noise, we measure 53.5 dB(A) on peaks corresponding to layer transfer. The rest of the time thanks to the optical system, the Form 1+ is practically inaudible. It is by far the quietest printer we have ever tested. By way of comparison, the quietest filament machine is measured at 55 dB(A) constant.

Strong points

  • Almost complete accessory package.
  • Very easy to use.
  • Plug’n Play.
  • Almost professional print quality.
  • Low roughness surface finish.
  • Optimised supports (branches).
  • Controlled noise.

Low points

  • Isopropyl alcohol and resin filter are missing from the pack.
  • Still requires experience to avoid potential printing errors.
  • No detection of low resin level.
  • Missing wireless connectivity.
  • Information in English.
  • Consumable resin tank

Conclusion

Although the printing cost is higher than that of FFF printers, it is nevertheless controlled for an excellent printing quality that makes you want to exploit its possibilities. We would have liked an automatic finishing process – at least for rinsing the part and final UV exposure. In the end, despite some failed prints, this 3D printer makes it possible to get a foothold in high-precision printing.

Last update on 2019-06-20 at 17:57 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

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