Automated Post-processing for SLS 3D Printing Unveiled by Formlabs at Formnext 2023

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Formlabs first entered the selective laser sintering (SLS) space in 2017 with the introduction of its Fuse 1, which was officially released in 2021; the Fuse 1+ 30W was launched a year later. At formnext in Frankfurt, Germany this week, the company announced its latest SLS innovation: the new Fuse Blast, an automated post-processing machine, which completes the Formlabs Fuse Series ecosystem.

As Dávid Lakatos, the company’s Chief Product Officer, said at a press breakfast this morning, Formlabs prides itself on combining the “best of both worlds” with high-quality performance parts at an affordable price point. However, he noted that 3D printing is “not just about the printer, it’s about the ecosystem,” which includes materials, software, and, of course, post-processing, once known as the AM industry’s dirty little secret.

After reminding the assembled journalists of some of the company’s material innovations this year, including Silicone 40A resin, Alumina 4N resin for accessible technical ceramics, and TPU 90A powder, Lakatos got down to the business of the Fuse Blast, “a major step forward for SLS post-processing” that promises 80-98% time savings for powder recovery and 75-80% time savings for cleaning. It’s a fully automated part cleaning and polishing solution that Formlabs says, when paired with the Fuse Sift, can consistently take a part from printed to finished in just 15 minutes.

Image courtesy of Formlabs

The Fuse Blast offers both cleaning and surface finishing, with automatic tumbling for hands-off cleaning and quick removal of loose and semi-sintered powder, plus an in-line ionizer that enables “clean-to-the-touch parts” by preventing dust from settling back on them. It also has pre-programmed settings, or recipes as Lakatos called them, to enable that fully automated workflow. Compatible with multi-material cycles, these include Standard, Delicate, and a special Nylon 12GF Power setting, which helps to get rid of strong surface armor.

There are two choices for cleaning parts with the Fuse Blast. First, there’s an ergonomic manual assisted option, which is better for cleaning larger parts that you need to hold with both hands. The manual handheld cleaning option lets you easily clean delicate features needing line of sight with precision. Additionally, Formlabs will soon make available an optional upgrade to the Fuse Blast so users can polish parts as well as clean them. Offering a professional semi-gloss finish, the surface finishing upgrade enables you to deliver smooth, dye-ready, and scuff-resistant parts.

As Hardware Product Manager Matthew Ewertowski told us during a booth tour, the Fuse Blast Polishing System plugs right into the Fuse Blast, and uses a polishing media to give printed parts a glossy look and feel. He also encouraged us to put our hands into the gloves and see how easy it was to move things inside the Blast, and I agree with his assessment that it offers great freedom of movement.

A few customers are already seeing more streamlined post-production workflows with the new Fuse Blast, including contract manufacturer Autotiv, which has customers in industries like automotive, robotics, consumer goods, and more.

“Adding this system to any new or existing SLS workflow is a massive improvement over a manual cleaning and post-processing workflow. The Blast also takes stress off of our bodies due to removing the repetitive movement of manual cleaning,” Chris Haak, Operations Lead at Autotiv, said in a press release.

Gustav Bondéus, Head of Production at Bondtech AB, also spoke at the press breakfast, and said his team uses the Fuse Blast every day. Not long after Formlabs released the Fuse printer, Bondtech invested in one, and Bondéus said the versatile system is easy to set up and use, with an attractive price tag, material versatility, precision and accuracy, and the ability to handle complex geometries.

In 2021, the company made the LGX Lite extruder, its first product with the Fuse. Now, Bondtech can produce over 400 parts a day with its in-house Fuse line, and is even offering on-demand printing. Adding the new Fuse Blast to the mix could help them offer even more, and Bondéus told the crowd that “It’s an exciting time for us.”

Formlabs also announced some software improvements that were shipped to all existing Fuse Series customers to make it even more powerful, starting with an improved packing algorithm. Lakatos explained that this enables 15% better packing density, which means a lower cost per part and more efficient printing; plus, the algorithm reduces powder waste by an average of 42%.

Another improvement is a 30% faster print speed for Nylon 12 powder on Fuse 1+ 30W systems, and the third is better part resolution, enabling fine feature preservation. He said the company’s SLS parts are well-known for their robustness and resolution, but with this new feature, they can now “resolve even thinner walls.”

“Combined with our newest software updates, we’re continuing to streamline the SLS 3D printing process so Formlabs users can print high-quality parts faster,” Lakatos said in the press release.

Formlabs is a leader in SLS 3D printing: since the Fuse 1 first launched, this series of printers has accounted for almost half of the powder bed fusion printers sold around the globe. Growing its SLS ecosystem with these software updates, and the new Fuse Blast, will definitely keep the company in the lead and better support its Fuse printers in sectors like manufacturing, automotive, and engineering. With a price of €10,699, the Fuse Blast will start shipping early in 2024, and the Polishing System upgrade will be globally available in H1 2024.

If you’re at formnext this week, you can see the Fuse 1 and Fuse Blast for yourself at Stand E11, Hall 11.1 Take a look at some more of my pictures from the Formlabs booth:

(All images by the author, unless otherwise listed)

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