The XFAB Expands the Material Portfolio of Stereolithography 3D Printers

The XFAB Expands the Material Portfolio of Stereolithography 3D Printers

At CES, we were treated to a number of desktop stereolithography machines, which seemed unafraid of any 3D Systems law suits that might occur. Among them were the OWL Nano, the Pegasus Touch, and, of course, the Form1.  Each machine distinguished itself from the others in one way or another: the Form1 was the most famous, the Pegasus Touch was faster and bigger and the OWL Nano could print with really fine resolution. Then, there was DWS Lab, an Italian spin-off company that had brought its own XFAB.  While the XFAB didn’t promise higher resolution, it did offer a range of materials much wider than any of its competitors.

I had the pleasure of speaking with Matteo Fio, a marketing assistant for the company. He explained to me that DWS Lab was the recently formed consumer division of DWS Systems.  The DigitalWax Stereolithography process projects a solid state blue laser at a mirror, so the laser itself sits still while the mirror rotates to direct the light through a transparent vat of resin to cure a three dimensional object. Previously, DWS sold industrial machines for the jewellery and dental industries, among others. The XFAB would be the consumer version, to be released sometime this Spring for around $5k. 

Unlike its competitors, the XFAB leverages the industrial experience of DWS to print in a diverse set of materials: acrylate resin, rigid opaque, transparent, as well as ABS, polypropylene, rubber and ceramic mimics. Matteo described the ceramic as a composite material with nano-sized bits of ceramic throughout with a light blue colour. The print area is 180 x 180 mm, about 7” x 7”, and the machine can achieve layer thicknesses of between 10 and 100 microns, with detail resolution of about 80 microns. The company also has plans to release an XFAB Mini in the summer with a price point of about $2,500 that will utilize the same technology at a smaller scale.

The presence of so many SLA machines at CES this year makes me wonder if 2014 will be the year of desktop stereolithography in 3D printing. As Makers have been able to construct improvements to FFF machines, will there now be a revolution in desktop SLA? A number of patents revolving around SLA are expiring this year, so I’m hoping to see the price of the machines driven downward as the quality of the machines goes up. But, just because the lawsuit between FormLabs and 3DS ended in a settlement doesn’t mean that litigation is over.  We’ve already seen Stratasys go after one FFF manufacturer, despite the expiration of some patents related to the technology.

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