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Building the Form 1: A Case Study in Using Software to Bring a Low Cost High Tech Product to Market

Ian Ferguson (Formlabs)
Location: Fleet Room

The Form 1 3D printer is a revolution in capabilities for low cost desktop rapid prototyping. It uses a stereo lithography to 3D print very high resolution parts with a wider range of material properties than has been available to hobbyists, small business and consumers. Enabling the creation of such a device required innovations in manufacturing processes and an approach to engineering that relied on being able to correct problems in low cost components.

The Form 1 is best categorized as precise machine tool and as such is capable of creating parts that are accurate to 10 microns. Achieving this level of quality with low cost components that vary in quality and have large tolerances is a non-trivial process. It required development of software tools paired with electromechanical devices to measure, calibrate and compensate for variances between printers. These devices evolved with the development of the product as a core piece of technology that physically existed separately outside the shipping device and in the form of software algorithms that are. These devices also allow for a greater amount of data collection and analysis on products as they are being produced at the factory.

The approach to compensating for low cost components flaws permeated the design from the very first design steps where good enough components were used to demonstrate feasibility to keep prototyping costs down. It resulted in a suite of tools that are setup at our contract manufacturer to ensure that every machine though unique in its specific variation has the capability to 3D print parts that are expected by users of a Form 1. Finally customers interact with the results of this every time they print as software algorithms compensate for tolerance issues measured at the factory. The result of this design approach is a product that costs less, is more capable and easier to maintain.

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Ian Ferguson


Ian Ferguson is lead engineer at Formlabs working on all aspects of producing products from design to manufacturing and ongoing support. With an entrepreneurial background in mechatronic and robotics engineering he likes to get into the nitty gritty elements of design and development while maintaining a sharp focus on the market. He’s used to the startup hard work life style having worked previously at Bossa Nova Robotics creating high tech toys, and building robots for academic and military research at Princeton and the University of Pennsylvania.