Somerville’s Formlabs rolls out retooled 3-D printer

Formlabs CEO and co-founder Max Lobovsky, holding a part made by the new Form 2 printer.
Formlabs CEO and co-founder Max Lobovsky, holding a part made by the new Form 2 printer.

Formlabs chief executive Max Lobovsky says that his Somerville startup is working hard to make 3-D printing objects more like printing out a two-dimensional document.

The company’s new Form 2 printer, being unveiled this morning at an event at Boston’s Museum of Science, tries to simplify 3-D printing in several ways: the software automatically arranges multiple items and the necessary support structures to hold them; files can be sent to print over Wi-Fi; the printer uses resin in cartridges, rather than requiring users to refill a reservoir with drippy bottles; and there’s a Web-based view of the machine’s current status, including the jobs waiting to be printed.

“We’re trying to hide the complexity,” Lobovsky says.

Lobovsky talks about building a printer for “prosumers” — which includes serious amateur designers as well as professionals operating on a limited budget. But he also notes that many large companies have already purchased Formlabs’s first-generation printer, including big names like Apple, Ford, GE, and Tesla. The new Form 2 is slightly more expensive than the company’s original product: $3,499, versus $3,299.

The new machine, like the original, produces objects by using a laser that hardens a light-sensitive resin. The Form 2 can produce objects that are 40 percent larger than the original printer could, and the company says that controlling the temperature of the resin more precisely is one of the new features that allows the Form 2 to achieve even higher levels of detail.

Lobovksy acknowledges that the market for 3-D printers has “gotten more competitive, with way more players” than when the company was founded in 2011, by a trio of MIT students and alumni. He says there is still “a lot more to invent in 3-D printing.”

Analyst Terry Wohlers of Wohlers Associates says that Formlabs’s devices compete with those made by 3D Systems, Carima, DWS Systems, EnvisionTEC, and Stratasys. But Formlabs has the advantage of a lower price, Wohlers says.

Formlabs has already shipped “many thousands” of printers, Lobovsky says, declining to be more specific. The company first started offering printers on the funding site Kickstarter in 2012.

Lobovsky says the Form 2 will be assembled in Hungary; it should start shipping to customers sometime next month. (I wrote recently about the company’s decision to make its first-gen product in the United States.) Formlabs employs 105 people in Somerville.

Scott Kirsner writes the Innovation Economy column every Sunday in the Boston Globe, in which he tracks entrepreneurship, investment, and big company activities around New England.
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