Happy New Printer…er Year!

Posted: 01/05/2017 in Uncategorized

2017….I wish these years would slow TF down, they seem to be adding up faster than I’d like them too lately. A lot has happened, more than what a lot of celebrities wanted to be a part of it seems, and a lot more is on the way. Christmas was great, (started watching the old Home Improvement episodes again as I got my old man the complete collection) and the New Year was peaceful and absent Maria Carey since boycotting the ball after Dick Clark croaked.

But, that said, it’s been a roller coaster ride over here. New job, new baby on the way, no consistency to the daily grind…yeah there’s been a lot to take in recently, but among all that, I’ve been moving forward as best I can with DB.

So, as eluded to before in the past post, DB has acquired some very cool new improvements. About 3 weeks ago, after sealing a new commission for Mithzan Productions, I finally pulled the trigger on a new SLA 3D printer I’ve been wanting for years. Downing’s Basement is now the proud owner of a Formlabs, Form 2 SLA 3D printer!

Unlike my other 3D Printer which is a fairly standard FDM printer, this machine is a Stereolithography (SLA) printer, which means there are no materials extruded, rather a beam of UV laser light shoots up from the bottom of a liquid resin containment tank and hardens everything in it’s path onto the build plate. This goes on one layer at a time and once one layer finishes, the build plate steps up a notch and the process begins again. And because there are no motors or anything pulling an extruder, there is no friction on the build surface so micro geometry is possible. It’s a truly amazing machine.

The unboxing video above shows off what one can expect when opening up the base package and there really wasn’t a whole lot of set-up involved that required any in-depth discussion on how to do it. A few thoughts on the purchase and we’ll start with the good.

Print Quality – Absolutely amazing! As the pictures below show, the tolerances and clean finish of the parts are stunning and save a great deal of time with post production. There still needs to be a fine sanding done to the parts, but no major filling/sanding work like is present with FDM prints if you want to have a smooth/clean finish. Also the resin sands extremely well, better I’d say than ABS.

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My first print, an NES D-pad that I designed a few years ago. This was also the first print I did on my FDM printer. This is before the alcohol rinse and still on the build plate, but you get an idea of the quality this thing produces.

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SLA vs FDM. The red buttons were done on my standard 3D printer, the black on the Form 2. Though the pic isn’t as clear, you can certainly see there is a big resolution difference between the two. The Z/R/L characters are actually printed into the part with the SLA.

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Same as I did for the Breakout Box on the Hesline, this replaces the front face plate on the JB-58 from poly case with what I need for the extra controllers and the HDMI port. Though I was able to use this, this part was technically my first fail because of the lines right above the HDMI opening. Those were supposed to be flush, no idea why it did that, but they sanded down easy enough.

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But as far as detail goes, this thing can’t be beat. That’s a .03″ x .05″ spacer line on the top edge there so that when the two case halves come together, there is a small gap that makes it look just like an injection molded part. Truly amazing precision.

Ease of use and multiple materials – The other big selling point for me is that there are several different kinds of resins that can be bought that support several different features. For example, there is a flexible resin that would act very much like a contact pad for a gaming controller’s buttons, which would allow me to print my own contact pads making the need for tact switches obsolete. There are also Cast-able and Tough resins that one could even make small Injection molds out of. And the interface and the software are very easy to learn and navigate. It’s a very versatile machine on so many levels.

However, with the good come the bad but I use that word lightly because this machine was not designed with a hobbyist in mind, it was designed for the working professional who needed to turn around true-to-form prototypes. So, ergo, most of the bad I’d give against this machine has to do with the expense.

COST – This is by far the biggest investment I’ve put into the shop and it’s only because of the number of jobs I’ve got lined up for portable commissions that I was able to pull this off. And it’s not just for the printer itself, but the resin per liter is 10X more expensive than a Kilo of filament and that’s just for the basic stuff. Granted right now I’ve used up almost 1/2 a liter of resin in over 3 weeks, printing almost everyday, so you do get some mileage out of a liter. But the fact that the resin tanks are considered consumable and will last for about 2 liters of resin needs to be accounted for. On top of this, if you wanted to change resin colors or material type, you’d need a new tank and probably a new print head so you wouldn’t have to clean off the material from the one your using.

Speed and Build Size – The speed is the other peeve. With a laser no wider than a human hair, printing at 100% infill, you can imagine that you’re only going to get one print set for the night and have to take care of finished part in the morning. Finishing is also a bit of a chore because it requires a 10min alcohol bath to clean any uncured resin from the part, and then a recommended hour long UV tanning session under a salon nail light to fully harden the part. The build volume is also a bit smaller than optimal which in this most recent project made me take on a more modular approach to the casing.

But again…this was not built for hobbyist, this was built for professionals and the price of precision is a high one. It was a risk to take this on but I feel the benefits it’s going to bring to the shop will pay itself back in good time. I’m very excited to see what else comes of this and how it improves my projects in the future!

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