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Formlabs Buys Nascent SLS 3D Printer Competitor Micronics

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Formlabs, maker of accessible yet professional 3D printers, has acquired Micronics, which recently debuted with a claim of making a $2,999 3D printer. I, for one, was pretty incredulous about the prospect of having that powder bed fusion 3D printer available at that price. If you just looked at the parts and the assembly they’d have to do, it would seem nigh impossible. Additionally, they built slicer software on top of Unreal Engine.

As I said then, the architecture was super interesting, with powder coming in, “canisters and is gravitationally fed into the system, then moved upwards with an auger. The build chamber is designed to be completely removable. For powder distribution, the system positions a powder flipper that scoops up powder, rotates, and opens sloped wings to drop the powder onto the build platform, before rotating again to spread the powder evenly. After the build process, a plastic tool is provided to remove the entire powder cake, which can then be positioned into a bin for depowdering. This bin allows for shaking to sieve old powder and depowder simultaneously. New powder can also be added to the bottom of the bin before it is poured back into the machine, with the parts remaining in the upper compartment.”

The removable build chamber, powder flippers, rotating fan powder smoothing, and whole bin depowdering were super innovative. The marketing was a bit quixotic, and they made some over-the-top claims that eroded my belief even further. The two-person team behind Micronics then went on to do a Kickstarter, raising a hefty $1.3 million. A lot of people were on pins and needles. A $2,999 desktop powder bed fusion system with so much technology made by two people—could this possibly work? We shall never know, because now Formlabs has swooped in. The two founders will join Formlabs’ engineering team, and the Kickstarter backers will be refunded their money.

Micronics parts.

“We’re excited to welcome Henry and Luke to Formlabs. After meeting the Micronics co-founders at Open Sauce 2024, we discovered our shared vision for accessible, powerful 3D printing. The Micronics team’s talent and innovative spirit will help us to accelerate accessible SLS 3D printing to market and enable anyone to bring their ideas to life,” said Formlabs CEO Max Lobovsky.

“We are thrilled to join forces with Formlabs, a company we have long admired. After the outpouring of excitement around our Kickstarter, we’re confident that this move will enable us to bring the best SLS 3D printing experience to users around the world by leveraging the incredible talent and experience at Formlabs. We are excited about this next phase in our mission to make digital fabrication even more accessible, and can’t wait to get started,” said Micronics CEO Henry Chan.

Frankly, I think Formlabs is being nice here. If this was a material extrusion 3D printer, Micronics’ whole strategy could have worked. However, to develop, manufacture, and launch a powder bed fusion system complete with software using two people was going to be nigh impossible. At the same time, the system price still seems improbably low to me. Even if they got an amazing deal on the optics package, it just didn’t really make sense. Will someone eventually figure out how to make a $3,000 powder bed system? Sure, we’ve seen what’s possible in value engineering for material extrusion and vat polymerization.

Having said that, there was a lot of amazing engineering inspiration here. Their powder conveyancing, spreading, and recoating ideas were super elegant. I loved the salad shaker-style depowdering box and the removable build chambers. These guys certainly seemed capable of innovative engineering on a shoestring budget. The parts looked great as well. Just look at the image above of the Micronics parts compared to those from the Fuse1.

So, to prevent these gentlemen from a Kickstarter fracas and instead let them bring their magic to Formlabs seems like a very solid move on Formlabs’ part. I, for one, can’t wait to see what kind of imaginative and inventive stuff they come up with at Formlabs.

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