The concept of 3D printing is rapidly coming into vogue. With The Motley Fool calling it “the end of the Made-in-China era” and others boggling over the sheer array of possibilities it represents, it's not surprising to see 3D printer-related projects make it to Kickstarter. One such project, the Form 1 from FormLabs, just launched yesterday on Kickstarter with a goal of $100,000 by the end of the first month. After the first day, the number has already surpassed that figure seven times over.
Form 1's Kickstarter funding currently stands at just over $709,000, spread over 487 different backers with the numbers rapidly climbing. What's drawing such incredible response numbers to the Form 1? According to FormLabs co-founder Maxim Lobovsky, the difference in the Form1 is one of sheer value. Lobovsky described a market in which there were, essentially, two different products: 3D printers for the high-end industrial market that start around $10,000 a unit and go up from there and printers for the lower-end hobbyist market that generally run between $2,000 and $3,000. Form 1, meanwhile, looks to split the difference, providing the high-end functionality of an industrial 3D printer at the cost of a lower-end hobbyist tool, nearly matching the Makerbot price.
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The Form 1 uses a process called Stereolithography--regarded by many as the “gold standard” of 3D printing-- which involves a positioning system that directs a laser directly onto a tray filled with liquid resin to achieve extremely high resolution. While this by itself is impressive enough, the software powering the Form 1 is even better. It allows for .STL models from any 3D CAD package to be imported, and that gives an incredible new level of utility for even lower-budget users.
The design of the machine was an important contribution to its marketability, using a Bluray laser diode in its construction to drop the overall price of the unit, as well as by taking advantage of some expired patents to lower development costs. FormLabs also managed to analyze the current offerings and determine just what was necessary and what wasn't, allowing them to put forth a system that could be built low-cost, and thereby pass the savings on to the potential users.
There are plenty of those potential users to be had, besides. With 30,000 professional 3D printers currently online the world over, but 10 million 3D CAD software users active, there's plenty of room for a tool that can take the products of the software and turn them into actual real-world objects.
While 3D printing may not mean “the end of the Made-In-China era”, it is likely to significantly shake up the manufacturing market as we know it today. Whether 3D printing will be the next Internet or merely an incremental advancement remains to be seen, but it's likely to cause at least a few major changes in a market that's desperate for a moon shot.
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Edited by Brooke Neuman