There are plenty of reasons why we’re not yet in a mass-production revolution enabled by 3D printing. One of them is the technology is time-consuming and often forces you to leave a print running overnight without supervision. It means there’s likely plenty of dead time, when a finished print is sat in the hopper, and there’s nobody around to pull it out and get the next one going. It’s a problem that Formlabs is hoping to address with its “Automation Ecosystem,” a family of products you can bolt on to some of its printers to help automate the fiddly bits.
This includes Form Auto, which can remove a printed part from a machine, freeing it up to start on the next one. You can also add a High Volume Resin system which will increase the printers’ raw material capacity up to five liters. And there’s Fleet Control — new software that’ll help manage a fleet of printers, letting you balance the workload across all of your units. The systems are all, naturally, designed for small and medium enterprises who rely upon manufacturing but can’t spare the warm bodies to worry at each printer in turn. (It'll also come in handy for companies like Hasbro, which is 3D printing people's heads for its custom action figure line.)
Formlabs says that the benefits — beyond being able to leave work running unsupervised for longer — include less material wastage and cheaper prints. The company says it expects to see users’ per-print costs fall by anything up to 40 percent, as well as reducing packaging waste. As for pricing, Form Auto will set you back $3,400 (with a year's free Fleet Control thrown in), with shipping expected to begin in the second half of the year.