Prototyping is hard, but amazing tools bring game-changing capabilities. After the success of our screwdriver launch last year, we doubled down on our internal tools to better equip our engineering team to rapidly develop and produce new tools and other products. Kyle, our Engineering Manager, has a quick breakdown of how that has enabled his team throughout 2023!
Engineering Manager with Frickin Lasers
Well, Linus gave us $180k to upgrade the Engineering department’s prototyping capabilities and we have used it to completely deck out the engineering den with some awesome machinery. There will probably be a full video on the prototyping room’s upgrade in the near future, but for now you will have to settle for a sneak peak into just one of the new machines - one that has frickin lasers!
The FUSE and SIFT
Meet the Formlabs Fuse 1+ SLS and its buddy the Fuse Sift. SLS stands for Selective Laser Sintering, which is an additive manufacturing process that uses a laser beam to selectively melt layers of powdered material - in this case Nylon 12 - to form a 3D object. This process actually “melts” the material and fuses it to the layer below in contrast to resin printers that just cure resin with UV light to form 3D parts. The main benefit to this is the strength of its manufactured parts, which actually wind up close to the strength of the injection molded plastics used in our Screwdriver and Stubby Screwdriver.
Similar to DFM printing, SLS “prints” parts in layers, and can take hours to complete a small, seemingly simple component. Once a layer is complete, an arm pushes a new thin layer of fresh unfused material over the previous fused layer as the build plate moves down by a few millimetres. This continues until the entire programmed build volume is finished.
Once the print is done, you are left with your parts embedded in a mass of unfused fine nylon dust, all contained within a handy dandy moveable build chamber - basically just a big box of plastic. Now you have to become an archaeologist and excavate your parts using the Fuse Sift and its $3000 companion vacuum.
Once you place the build chamber in the sift and you have donned your PPE (gloves and respirator, because safety first), you press a button and the build plate rises and poops out its entire contents into the Sift. Unlike resin printers, these parts are already fully “cured” and ready to go, they just need to be dug up.
Close up of Fuse Sift.
Build plate rising and pooping
You have to spend a decent amount of time breaking nylon crust, wire brushing, vacuuming and sandblasting to get your parts out. No one said excavating would be easy. The Sift helps you with all of this except the sand blasting - you don’t technically need a sandblaster to clean these up, but manual cleaning can be insanely taxing and could take hours. It’s like having a washing machine - you don’t NEED one, but do you really want to wash your clothes by hand? You have stuff to do!
The Sift even reclaims most of the unfused dust that can be reused in future prints. Shout out to sustainability! Any dust that isn’t reclaimed is sucked up by a vacuum that is grounded to ensure it dissipates any static electricity built up throughout the cleaning process. Combustible SLS dust + static from your vacuum = no more eyebrows… at best. What did we say before? Safety first!
And after all that work, you wind up with… your final product:
These parts are stronk and dimensionally accurate, perfect for use in functional prototypes and potentially in actual finished products - we haven’t tested this yet, but let us know in a reply… would you buy something 3D printed from a store like ours? We’re always looking at new ways to iterate more quickly. We’re not in the business of rushing things out, but maybe there’s a middle ground where we can release something before a year of development haha...
And to add to all the flexibility that this machine gives us, there are endless post processing finishes that you can add to these parts without disrupting its strength like sanding, polishing, and dyeing.
We are extremely happy with how much our prototypes have improved in the ~10 months that we’ve had this thing. It has allowed us to test things that we just couldn’t do with FFF and Resin printing. Just take a look at this…we were able to fully mock up our Stubby Screwdriver before launch, which made development SO MUCH EASIER this time around:
This is far from the endgame for lttstore - we’re still just getting started in terms of what is possible over here. If you’re as excited for the future as we are, consider picking up a Stubby Screwdriver to help support our future product development efforts!
Nick Light, COO
& the whole lttstore Team