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3D printing suppliers Ultimaker and Formlabs launch post-processing solutions

Two leading industrial 3D printing suppliers have introduced systems to help clean up and produce 3D prints once they come out of the printer.
Written by David Gewirtz, Senior Contributing Editor

Top 3D printer producers Ultimaker and Formlabs have both been active this month, introducing new post-processing solutions. In Ultimaker's case, it's a cleaning unit that helps manage dissolvable PVA filament used in FDM supports. In Formlabs' case, it's a washing and curing station for their large-format SLA resin printers.


Ultimaker's PVA Removal Station

Image: Ultimaker

Ultimaker PVA Removal Station

Supports are a necessary but frustrating element of additive manufacturing. When it comes to filament printers, the molten filament string can span only so much distance before it droops or falls. In the case of resin printers which generally print upside down, objects that need to hang over empty space need supports to hang from.


A PLA print supported by PVA, dissolving in a bowl of water. Extra credit: what is the model being printed? Let us know in the comments below.

Image: David Gewirtz

One advanced way of dealing with supports in FDM printing is to use a dual filament printer. One filament is the plastic for the object itself. Another filament is PVA, polyvinyl acetate, a substance that dries solid but can be dissolved in water. 

Fun fact: The Elmer's glue you used as a kid was mostly PVA.

The challenge of PVA is that once it's printed as part of a model, it needs to be removed. I've done this by dumping the object in a tank of water and waiting, but that's not terribly workable in a production environment.

Ultimaker's PVA Removal Station automates some of that process. Filled with 13.5L of water to dissolve PVA, its circulation direction will change automatically, and the speed can be adjusted as needed. It comes with a basket and divider to fix prints and to keep them submerged. The saturation indicator shows when water needs changing, and the transparent container allows for a quick look at the dissolving process.

Ultimaker tells us that their PVA Removal Station is universal in use (meaning it can be used with any brand PVA printer and filament) and will be available in the first half of next year.

I haven't done much with dissolvable filaments because I've been uncomfortable with PVA disposal. Where do you dump the liquid used to dissolve the PVA? Most people just say down the sink or in the toilet, but then you're dumping glue into your own pipes. This has always seemed like a Very Bad Idea.

I asked Ultimaker about a proper disposal method for PVA since our local chemical disposal sites don't recognize PVA as a toxic chemical, so that they won't accept it.

Ultimaker responded, "PVA is a biodegradable material, and in most cases disposing of the water afterwards is easy. However, we recommend that you check local regulations for more concise guidance. The water can be disposed of down the drain, providing the wastewater distribution network is connected to a wastewater treatment plant. After disposal, run hot water from the tap for approximately 30 seconds to remove any excess saturated PVA water and to avoid longer-term clogging issues."


Formlab's large printer and processing stations

Image: Formlabs

Form Wash L and Form Cure L

When it comes to resin printers, washing and curing are far more important. No print can come out of an SLA printer without washing off the toxic resin and then light curing it to lock it into solidity. In consumer applications, this process is often done by dumping a print into a container of isopropyl alcohol, swishing it around, and then taking the print outside and letting it sit in the sun.

But as I discussed when I reviewed Anycubic's washing and curing stations, an actual device built and optimized for washing and curing is a far more effective mechanism.

Formlabs, a company that produces commercial-grade resin printers, has long offered its own take on washing and curing stations. However, as resin prints get bigger and bigger, the need for bigger washing and curing stations has also gotten...well...bigger.

To that end, Formlabs has introduced the Form Wash L and Form Cure L, where the L stands for Large. To give you an idea of size, Formlabs shows images of a full-sized helmet inside the curing station and post-processed.

Two 500W heaters bring temperatures up to 80°C in less than 10 minutes, while three UV light modules emit the optimal wavelength of light for fast, effective curing. A reflective inner cavity and rotating glass turntable ensure UV light reaches all surfaces of the part for a consistent cure.

Each device starts at $2,999.

How do you post-process your prints? Do you prefer filament or resin? What's been your experience with washing and curing or with dissolvable filaments? How do you dispose of the PVA liquid or the cured resin liquid? Let us know in the comments below.

You can follow my day-to-day project updates on social media. Be sure to follow me on Twitter at @DavidGewirtz, on Facebook at Facebook.com/DavidGewirtz, on Instagram at Instagram.com/DavidGewirtz, and on YouTube at YouTube.com/DavidGewirtzTV.

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