Formlabs Raises $19 Million to Make Desktop 3D Printing Awesome
Form 1 3D Printer Raised $3 Million on Kickstarter, Now Gets $19 Million from VCs
Formlabs is a storybook startup. Founded by 3 engineers from the world-famous MIT Media Lab, the company launched an historic Kickstarter campaign in which they raised nearly $3 million from over 2,000 backers for their Form1 desktop 3D printer.
Now the company has achieved a new milestone. Formlabs raised $19 million in venture funding from DFJ Growth, Pitango Venture Capital, and Innovation Endeavors. Some angel investors also participated in the round. Formlabs will use the capital to expand its world-class product, design, and research teams, while growing its marketing and customer support capabilities internationally.
“There is still a wide open space in front of us to continue innovating and bringing incredible new products to the market; with these new resources, we’ll be able to continue to push the envelope, making extraordinary new tools available around the world,” co-founder Maxim Lobovsky said, “The group we’re putting together to get here is the most creative and passionate team working in 3D printing and I’m personally excited about using this new investment to grow our team and take digital fabrication to the next level.”
Formlabs has seen tremendous growth in the last year and is now expanding into an 11,000 square foot facility in Somerville, Massachusetts. “We’re going to use every inch. There’s a lot of work to do, so we are thrilled to have DFJ Growth and Pitango onboard,” said cofounder Natan Linder, “We’re looking forward to expanding internationally, and bringing a professional 3D printing experience to people around the world.”
“We are very excited to partner with Formlabs on their next phase of growth,” said DFJ Growth Managing Director Barry Schuler, who will join the board. “Max and the entire Formlabs team have done an amazing job with the Form 1 printer, a big advancement in the new industrial revolution.”
To date, the company has shipped over 900 desktop 3D printers.
The company is also making software a priority with PreForm 1.0, a milestone in the development of its easy-to-use, powerful 3D printing software. Formlabs’ PreForm software allows everyone, from novice to professional, to print 3D models with just a few mouse clicks.
How Formlabs Differentiates on Quality and Price
In the increasingly competitive 3D printing industry, Formlabs stands apart for two reasons. First, it is desktop 3D printer that can form layers as small as 25 microns (.001 inches), creating incredible detail. For example, look at this photo of a neptune statue standing next to a U.S. 25-cent coin.
Formlabs achieves this through a technology called stereolithography. Many desktop 3D printers use a process called FDM, or fused deposition modeling, that extrudes plastic layer by layer to form an object. 3D printers from MakerBot, Ultimaker, and Printrbot all use this approach.
The Form 1 3D Printer instead uses a resin based printing process ideal for detailed and complex parts. A high precision positioning system directs a laser onto a tray of liquid resin and traces out each crosssectional layer, causing the resin to harden. This process repeats until a full part is constructed. Printing is simple, reliable, and quiet.
Stereolithography was originally invented by Chuck Hull of 3D Systems, and the company still holds a patent on stereolithography. In fact, shortly after its Kickstarter success, Formlabs was named in a patent infringement lawsuit by 3D Systems.
However, many patents have expired already and the patent named in that lawsuit is set to expire early next year, which is likely why DFJ felt comfortable putting so much money into Formlabs.
Formlabs also differentiates on price. Their Form 1 3D printer costs $3,299.
Compare that to industrial stereolithography 3D printers which cost tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of dollars. And the Form 1 is not much more expensive than the leading FDM-based desktop 3D printer, the MakerBot Replicator 2, which sells for $2,199 and does not have nearly the precision of the Form 1.
Interview with Formlabs
We spoke with Sam Jacoby of Formlabs about the company’s plans for expansion on the announcement of this round of funding.
On 3D Printing: Congrats on your funding. Formlabs differentiates from most of the 3D printer makers by focusing on stereolithography, but that has also gotten you into some hot water due to patents in the space. Will stereolithography continue to be the focus for your company, or are you expanding to other 3D printing techniques?
Jacoby: Right now, we’re focusing on making the Form 1 the best possible 3D printer out there. We really proud of how far we’ve come, but we there’s still so much to do. We think there is a lot to be done with stereolithography, but we’re looking at whatever technologies will allow us to create the most powerful, innovative fabrication tools of the future.
On 3D Printing: Your company has a great story. How did starting at MIT set you up for success?
Jacoby: MIT is a great place. There, we had access to the most incredible set of fabrication machines–but those were expensive, high-end tools. We wanted to create something that could be shared more widely.
On 3D Printing: It looks like you are focusing more on software. What are the pain points you are looking to solve?
Jacoby: Software is a big part of what we do. When making hardware, it’s easy to overlook how important software is, so we’ve really made PreForm a focus. We’ve done a lot of extraordinary work in making a tool that is reliable and easy-to-use as possible. For example, many CAD programs have a tough time creating models that are ready to 3D print. To solve that problem, we’ve incorporated algorithms that automatically repair your 3D-models, so you can spend your time designing and getting on with your work.
Thanks to Sam Jacoby for the interview and congratulations to Formlabs on its $19 million funding round.