Formlabs Gathering of 3DPrinting Thought Leaders At MIT Media Lab Explores The Digital Factory

Formlabs has always been a wonder of innovation in the already creative 3D Printing space.  The founding team – Maxim Lobovsky, Natan Linder, and David Cranor –  designed a stereolithography 3D Printer while still students at the Center for Bits and Atoms in the MIT Media Lab and brought advanced capabilities to a wider audience by re-thinking the laser-based additive process.   Small enough to sit on a tabletop, the Form family of machines emerged from one of the most successful Kickstarters of all times, raising $3 million to make industrial-quality 3D Printing affordable for the average user.

Now, Formlabs is expanding at a rapid clip with new investment aimed at taking the product line into mainstream markets.  Funding from Autodesk and Foundry Group will allow the Somerville, MA company to scale its operations to meet increased international customer demand, increase R&D efforts on new materials and products, and extend Formlabs’ reach, especially in the manufacturing ecosystem.

To foster dialogue and collaboration within the manufacturing sector, Formlabs is hosting The Digital Factory at the MIT Media Lab in Cambridge on June 5.  Thought leaders, innovators, manufacturers, visionaries and startup founders will explore the changing landscape enabled by additive manufacturing, report on new breakthroughs and ponder the future.

The Digital Factory is more than just a collection of machines that are controlled by computers running CAD software;  the new concept democratizes manufacturing and makes the tools of digital fabrication available to just about everyone.  The power of that large scale, global accessibility is evident in the work of Fab Labs, over 1,000 worldwide digital fabrication laboratories that are interconnected, yet manufacture locally.  Neil Gershenfeld, founder of the Fab Lab Network at MIT, and Director of the Center for Bits and Atoms out of which FormLabs original ideas grew, will be speaking about a shift in how we think about the very idea of a Factory.

Design and software is of course where all digital manufacturing begins, and new directions are challenging our very basic concepts about how ideas are transformed into things.  Carl Bass, former CEO of Autodesk and Gian Paolo Bassi, CEO of Solidworks will delve into the impact of new concepts such as generative design on traditional manufacturing.  Questions such as “what happens when a car participates in generating the design of its own successor?” recently posed by Autodesk’s Mickey McManus at the RAPID conference will certainly open our minds to new ways of thinking about CAD/CAM.

I caught up with Max Lobovsky recently in the Formlabs booth at RAPID in Pittsburgh, and he expounded on the need for collaboration in a burgeoning industry.  “No one company can do it alone anymore. Just look at our relationship with Desktop Metal.  We are both selling machines that one might say compete with each other, but together we are stronger.  Here at RAPID we’ve had some joint exposure and we feel that is a good way forward for our growth, and also to solve our customers’ problems.”  Ric Fulop, a co-founder of Desktop Metal will be joining in The Digital Factory program. To expand the idea of collaboration, speakers from routing equipment, CAE tools, and Robotics companies will also be sharing ideas.

We’re entering a new era of manufacturing – additive instead of subtractive, collaborative instead of competitive, distributed instead of centralized.  At its best, The Digital Factory will inspire participants to think outside the current box in everything we do, and at worst y0u’ll get to meet some of the smartest – and most visionary – people working today in manufacturing.  I hope to see you there!