Formlabs aims to usher in the era of ‘mass customization’ with new 3D printers

Much of 3D printing up until now focused on the idea of prototyping, or printing out things to test but not necessarily meant for the mass market. Formlabs is attempting to change that, showing off it’s recently released 3D printer, dubbed the Fuse 1, at CES 2018.

Chief Product Officer Dávid Lakatos stopped by the DT CES booth Tuesday afternoon to talk about the company’s efforts. After sorting out a bit of mic trouble on our part (sorry, folks!) Lakatos wowed us with what is the future of 3D printing, and what we crowned as the top emerging tech product of the year in 2017.

He pointed out that much of the current printers out there — including the one that printed the DT logo sitting on our desk this week — use a process that’s akin to a glue gun adding plastic layer by layer to form 3D shapes. The result isn’t the prettiest, and even the best printers still produce prints that are fairly rough without some post-print touch-ups.

The Fuse 1 uses a process known as “selective layer sintering.” Instead of the spools of plastic that we’re used to, Formlabs’ Fuse 1 uses a powder which is heated to right below the point where it would melt. From there a laser is selectively aimed at the particles, fusing them together.

As a result, not only are the prints much smoother — in fact some of the smoothest we’ve ever seen — they’re also incredibly strong. Dávid noted that this method creates highly durable parts, but due to its expensive nature, only about 2-3,000 of these types of 3D printers have been made. The Fuse 1 is an effort to double that number within a year.

At a price point of $10,000, the Fuse 1 definitely isn’t cheap, but compared to industrial SLS machines, it’s outrageously affordable. What’s more exiting though, is the fact that it can be used not only to produce prototype objects, but also “mass customized” products that can be sold and used directly after being printed.

Lakatos showed examples of custom earbuds that could be made to fit customer’s ear shapes perfectly in less than two hours, custom fit sunglasses, and a bevy of medical grade objects including prosthetics, casts, and even temporary dentures. Even the most complex prints wouldn’t take more than 8-10 hours, he says.

Formlabs is also working with New Balance to create custom insoles, which are important to prevent and relieve foot and back pain. That partnership was announced last year.