Mar 25, 2016 | By Benedict

Hardware guru Andrew “Bunnie" Huang has performed a complete teardown of Formlabs’ Form 2 SLA 3D printer, detailing his findings in a blog post. Huang carried out a similarly thorough inspection of the Form 1 back in 2013.

According to many 3D printing experts, the Form 2 3D printer from Formlabs should now be considered the benchmark in affordable desktop stereolithography. The SLA 3D printer was unveiled to great fanfare back in September 2015, and has duly delivered on the promise of the Form 1. However, despite its popularity, not all that much is known about what lies beneath the arresting orange surface of the beloved 3D printer. Since the 3D printer is just six months old, it is perhaps understandable that relatively few makers have been willing to tear it open and reveal its innards. Fortunately, however, one tech expert recently obtained an engineering prototype of the Form 2 and proceeded to do just that, ripping the machine apart with reckless abandon to inspect its every minute detail.

Andrew “Bunnie" Huang, the internet’s favorite hardware guru, was responsible for shedding some light on the internal mechanics of the original Form 1 3D printer back in 2013, when he performed a teardown on the Kickstarter-backed machine. A lot has changed since then, with Formlabs evolving from promising startup into stereolithography grandmaster in a relatively short period of time, despite being embroiled in a long-running legal dispute with 3D Systems over the latter company’s purported ownership of the stereolithography 3D printing process.

Less than a year after winning its legal battle versus 3D Systems, Somerville, Massachusetts-based Formlabs unveiled the Form 2, promising a number of upgrades and new features, such as a more powerful 600 MHz TI Sitara AM3354 Cortex A8 CPU, wifi and ethernet connectivity, new galvanometers, a closed-loop resin tray heater, and a handful of further gadgets. With each of these upgrades contributing in its own way to the smoother running of an already incredibly efficient 3D printer, Huang was keen to get a closer look at the internal components to see how the physical objects compared to the factsheet.

Spoiler alert: Huang found the Formlabs Form 2 to be just as impressive on the inside as it is on the outside. The hardware expert praised the genuine rethinking of numerous design elements, especially when considered side by side with the more conservative and ultimately less useful upgrades offered by Makerbot on its Replicator 2. To call Huang’s investigation “thorough” would be an understatement, so we have highlighted a few choice finds from his mechanical journey which he deemed to be of particular interest.

One stage of the teardown which really piqued Huang’s interest was the discovery of Formlabs-branded galvanometers. After using off-the-shelf components in the Form 1, Formlabs’ decision to develop and integrate its own galvos has been interpreted by Huang as a crafty—and potentially very effective—plan to fend off copycat designs. While Formlabs did not take the same step for its driver board, Huang believes that the development of its own galvanometers will benefit the company threefold: by increasing the quality of each 3D print, by reducing cost, and by scuppering the plagiaristic plans of imitators. If we see a Form 3 any time soon, it might just contain even fewer off-the-shelf components.

One slightly perplexing observation made by Huang concerned the 3D printer’s power supply. By including the power supply within the chassis, rather than on an external brick, Formlabs subjected themselves to more stringent safety testing, and put pressure both on their own wiring standards and on the flame retardancy of internal components. Not finding any obvious technical explanation for this decision, Huang concludes that Formlabs may have just considered an all-in-one unit to seem “simpler” to the general customer.

“The Form 2 is a quantum leap forward,” says Huang. “The product smells of experienced, seasoned engineers; a throwback to the golden days of Massachusetts Route 128 when DEC, Sun, Polaroid and Wang Laboratories cranked out quality American-designed gear. Formlabs wasn’t afraid to completely rethink, re-architect, and re-engineer the system to build a better product, making bold improvements to core technology. As a result, the most significant commonality between the Form 1 and the Form 2 is the iconic industrial design: an orange acrylic box sitting atop an aluminum base with rounded corners and a fancy edge-lit power button.”

Unfortunately, when Huang took a closer look at the touchpanel and display subsection of the Form 2’s board, he found a monumental mistake that could have Formlabs employees clambering to initiate a mass recall. Well, not really. He actually found an amusing printing mistake, with two reference designators printed in a larger typeface than the rest. According to Huang’s report, this minuscule error appears to represent the biggest flaw in the entire 3D printer. You can check out Huang's findings here.



Posted in 3D Printer



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Bill wrote at 3/25/2016 3:33:14 PM:

I would think the bodge bridge cable on the Servo Controller board would have been the largest issue.

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