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Why do you need a Form 4 3D Printer?

By <a href="https://mfg.trimech.com/author/sophie-jin/" target="_self">Sophie Jin</a>

By Sophie Jin

Posted on June 18, 2024

If you are looking for a user-friendly 3D printer for entry and intermediate-level professional heavy use at a reasonable price, a Formlabs Form 4 3D printer might be a promising choice.

We recently provided an overview of the Form 4 printer, which was launched in May. In this article, in addition to comparing the Form 4 with the Form 3, we delve deeper into the technologies powering this new 3D printer.

Questions we’ll address include: What improvements does the Form 4 offer compared to its predecessors, particularly the Form 3+? What behind-the-scenes technologies are supporting these benefits? Is the Form 4 sufficiently reliable for different applications?

Four Improvements made by Form 4 vs Form 3+

2X-4X faster print speed

When compared to other resin 3D printers in the Form series, the Form 4 prints at a speed two to four times faster, reaching a pace akin to injection molding. On average, the Form 4 prints at a speed of 40mm/hour across all materials, while the Form 3+ prints at 11mm/hour.

We’ve printed a mouse cover using the Form 4 printer as shown in the pictures and the following time-lapse video taken by the camera integrated in the Form 4 printer.

As seen from the screen captures of print estimates below, the Form 3 can essentially print the same mouse cover part in the clear V4 resin in 4 hour 21 minutes using Preform’s auto generated orientation and support settings that use 0.1mm touch points at a density of 1.50, and at a layer height of 100um. When the exact same resin, part, and settings are used on the Form 4, the time estimate is reduced to 1 hour 51 minutes.

Print time using Form 3

Print time using Form 3

Print time using Form 4

Print time using Form 4

The time difference in adding multiple parts per build is also substantial between the generations. When transitioning from 1 to 4 identical parts on the Form 3, the print time increases from 4 hours 21 minutes to 7 hours 29 minutes, while the Form 4 going form 1 part to 6 parts with print time increasing from 1 hour 51 minutes to ONLY 2 hours 5 minutes.

Print time of multiple parts using Form 3

Print time of multiple parts using Form 3

Print time of multiple parts using Form 4

Print time of multiple parts using Form 4

The significant speed enhancement accelerates the product development process, allowing for multiple design iterations and prints each day.

30% greater build volume

When comparing build volume, the Form 4 also outperforms the previous Form 3 generation in number of parts per build. In a X/Y packing layer, the Form 4 can accommodate 6 individual parts and supports with the above settings, while the Form 3 only allows 4 individual components.

With the 30% increase of build volume from the Form 3+ to the Form 4, we can now fit more small parts, or larger overall parts in the printer.

Smaller build volume means fewer parts at once, smaller parts overall, or even the same part takes longer due to taller Z heights. By allowing for shorter Z height, we have fewer layers, which directly correlates to shorter build times due to the nature of additive manufacturing.

In short, the larger build volume enables more parts at once, larger parts overall, or the same parts faster when using the Form 4.

30% lower cost of versatile materials

With the launch of Form 4, Formlabs also introduces six new resins, among which the Fast Model Resin stands out. This resin is Formlabs’ fastest one yet, boasting print speeds exceeding 100 mm per hour. Leveraging Form 4 technology, it prints three times faster, ideal for rapid prototyping models.

Besides the Fast Model resins, Formlabs is also leaning into the reformulation of their General Purpose Resins, especially now that they are faster to print, cheaper, and the cartridges having a smaller form factor while still providing the same amount of resin.

There are four new General Purpose Resins that offer improved toughness and color while printing two to five times faster than Form 3. They not only match but surpass the Premium Pro resins across key metrics, all at a lower price starting from $99 per liter.

With the consumable resin costs dropping by 30%, complemented by more economical and long-lasting resin tanks, along with a 30% increase in print volume, Form 4 now presents a more cost-effective option.

Besides, Form 4 is compatible with over 17 performance materials from Formlabs’ materials library. It also offers an Open Platform that enables users to explore third-party materials, providing versatility in printing options.

“A huge reason we use SLA over FDM is material options. For all of our products, we have a huge myriad of different components and products we use. We run about 12-15 different Formlabs materials that we use for a variety of reasons,” said Jesse Emanuel, Prototype Engineer at OXO.

Plug and play in 15 minutes

Formlabs prides itself on convenience, and with Form 4, setting up is taking just 15 minutes thanks to its intuitive design.

One of the contributors to this streamlined process is its automatic resin handling feature (as shown in the short workflow video below), using smart sensors to drastically reduce material changeover time. Additionally, the build platform of Form 4 facilitates rapid part removal and minimizes the occurrence of breakage.

Another standout feature of the Form 4 printer is its integrated camera which has been mentioned above, allowing users to see when something goes amiss and correct it before too much time and materials are lost.

For post-processing, parts could be washed in the new Form Wash that enables a faster and cleaner process. Form Cure then could ensure optimal mechanical properties of the parts after washing.

Maintenance is simpler with the Form 4. Unlike previous generations, which involved keeping multiple mirrors directing the laser clean, the Form 4 utilizes a light projection system. As a result, the only part requiring regular cleaning is the projection screen. This task is made easier by simply removing the resin tank, much like you would for a material swap.

This chart below is an overview of the technology specs for both Form 4 and Form 3+.

Tech Specs of Form 4 vs Form 3+

Tech Specs of Form 4 vs Form 3+

How does Form 4 3D printer make the improvements?

Formlabs has democratized SLA printing since it first introduced desktop SLA printing with Form 1 in 2011. It has continued to advance with subsequent releases of Form 2 and Form 3 as a cost-effective and reliable option for professional prototyping.

However, the base technology of Form 4 has shifted from SLA printing to mSLA (Masked Stereolithography) this time around. Adding mSLA printing into Formlab’s technology portfolio, Form 4 is operating with a balance of speed and accuracy.

What is mSLA printing?

Both mSLA and SLA printers cure resins to create 3D objects layer by layer. But instead of using a UV laser to cure the resin one point at a time like what SLA typically does, mSLA uses UV light via an LCD screen to selectively mask light, curing an entire layer of the resin at the same time, thus speeding up the solidification process. This is why mSLA is often referred to as LCD printing. If you are interested in how mSLA works, more comprehensive details are given here.

At a glance, LCD printing is similar to DLP technology in that both build parts layer by layer using light projection with a vat of liquid resin. But they have 7 key differences including light projection, curing and resolution.

As the use of LCD screens for light masking can be more cost-effective than precision lasers used in SLA printers, mSLA printers are often more affordable compared to SLA printers.

Driven by the improvements in speed and cost, many manufacturers have transitioned from the laser-based SLA to mSLA printing.

However, this shift may entail a trade-off in accuracy. SLA printers, with their focused laser or UV light sources, often offer higher resolution and finer details compared to mSLA printers.

How does Form 4 improve with mSLA printing?

With the newly developed Low Force Display (LFD) print engine, the Form 4 aims to set itself apart from conventional mSLA printing methods.

This engine combines an array of high-intensity LED backlights and a custom LCD screen masking out areas that do not need exposure. The LED array delivers intense light to and cure each layer of the resin all at once, being the biggest factor driving Form 4’s fast speed, printing multiple parts simultaneously with minimal impact from part size or quantity.

The Form 4 features an LED array with a 50-micron horizontal pixel size, averaging the thickness of a human hair and larger than the pixel size of Form 3, which is 25 microns.

To deal with the small difference in resolution mainly caused by the larger pixel size of mSLA printing (or LCD printing), Form 4 uses pixel smoothing, a feature in the printer’s slicing software that helps to make parts look more detailed, in a bid to increase the effective resolution to a level similar to that of Form 3.

With the Fastest print settings for the resin at 0.2mm slice heights, we use the Form 4 to print this triceratops in about 2 hours. With the 50um pixel size, the Form 4 printer delivers high detail parts with a crisp finish.

Triceratops printed with Form 4 in 2 hours

Triceratops printed by Form 4 in 2 hours

Is Form 4 a more reliable mSLA printer?  

In contrast to Form 3, which started with a lower print success rate than Form 2 and gradually reached around 70%, Form 4 has matched Form 3’s print success rate from the beginning. This solid foundation sets Form 4 on another cycle of improvement.

“99% of the time I know I’ll have a successful print. And the other 1%, I know I can fix it myself, and get it working same-day. It’s super nice to have that reliability,” said Matt Tetzl, Manager of Rapid Prototyping Department at Black Diamond.

The success rate depends on several factors, with LCD screen durability being a pivotal one.

For mSLA printers, the LCD screen is a critical component. Prolonged exposure to UV light and heat can degrade the screen, leading to pixel burnout, reduced print quality, and print failures.

To deal with the short lifetime problem with generic LCD printers, Form 4’s LCD screen is engineered for 600,000 to 1,900,000 layers, integrating an aluminum frame, electrical connectors for easy replacement, and temperature sensing that offers superior heat control for the resin.

Another challenge with mSLA printing is peel strength, the force required to detach the cured resin from the resin tank film. High peel forces may cause excessive stress on the printed layers and may result in distortion and print failures, including print adhesion to the resin tank or tearing of the film.

To minimize peel forces, Form 4 introduces a re-engineered resin tank. It has a flexible textured top film that gently separates from the cured layer, and a durable bottom film to prevent scratches. This passively introduces airflow to prevent these peel force issues.

The resin tank can be relied upon for over 75,000 layers, extending the uptime of the printer. The Form 4 boasts 170 prints (averaging 11 hours each) per tank, where the Form 3 only lasts an average of 90 prints per tank under the same 11 hours assumption.

“I really appreciate the reliability paired with the speed. Now I can commit to internal deadlines and feel confident that I can deliver every time,” said Robert Mackowiak, Rapid Prototyping Engineer at Hasbro.

Conclusion

Companies need high quality parts for testing and design validation, but it can be difficult to wait for weeks or months in some cases with traditional methods. Additive manufacturing helps fill that need and shorten the gap. Specifically, the Form 4 allows for a decreased time to part with reliability, enabling faster design iteration and staying ahead of competitors. Moreover, it provides a solution at a reasonable price for entry/intermediate level SLA and mSLA machines.

From initial design conceptualization, functional prototyping, product validation, to short run production parts, with Formlabs’ engineering grade thermoset resins, companies can make beautiful prototypes and reliable components for testing an array of applications.

Ready to buy or interested in learning more? Reach out to TriMech to get started.

<h4>Written by <a href="https://mfg.trimech.com/author/sophie-jin/" target="_self">Sophie Jin</a></h4>

Written by Sophie Jin

Sophie Jin is a Marketing Coordinator, Intern. Prior to joining TriMech, Sophie worked as a business journalist both in Canada and China, covering various industries, particularly tech companies.