Project: Formlabs Form 1 3D Printer Electronics and Firmware
Formlabs hired NK Labs to design the electronics and write the firmware for their first product, the Form 1 3D printer. The Form 1 was a breakthrough product, the first desktop stereolithography printer. It allows designers and engineers to do high resolution, professional quality 3D prints at their desk, for a much lower price than the other stereolithography machines.
NK Labs designed all the electronics in the product, including the main board, the display board, the laser board, and the cable assemblies. We worked with Formlabs to determine their requirements, then selected the components, drew the schematics, and laid out the boards. We had a batch of prototypes fabricated, then tested them -- first on the bench, then in real printers. We wrote the firmware in C, using an prioritized interrupt structure to meet the printer's real-time control requirements.
The main board design is centered around a 32-bit STM32F103 microcontroller. The printer downloads the laser path data from Formlabs' PreForm software via USB, and stores it on an internal SD card. The microcontroller controls the laser power, the X and Y axis galvanometers, and the Z axis motor. A front-panel display and multifunction button allows the user to interact with the printer and to displays status.
Once several printers were reliably printing good parts in the lab, NK Labs personnel traveled to the factory to help supervise production of the first beta units, and to help debug issues on the production line. We also did the engineering to get the units to pass CE and FCC certification.
When Formlabs first hired NK Labs, Formlabs was a small startup with fewer than 10 people. Today, Formlabs has several product lines, employs more than 400 people in its Somerville headquarters, and has it own large electrical engineering and firmware departments. Their machines are used by designers, engineers, dentists, and jewelers throughout the world.
In the NK Labs office, we have two Formlabs 3D printers side-by-side that are in constant use by our engineering team for designing prototypes. It is exciting for us to see Formlabs printers in use at other customer sites, and it is also satisfying to use a tool that we helped design as part of our everyday workflow.
The Form 1 3D Printer. For the first time, every designer can have a stereolithography machine on their desk.
Promotional video for the Form 1