3D Printer Review: FabPro™ 1000
Michael Alba posted on August 16, 2018 |
(Image courtesy of 3D Systems.)
(Image courtesy of 3D Systems.)

FabPro 1000 is an industrial 3D printer designed for the engineer just entering the world of additive manufacturing, but who’s also in need of a legitimate prototype or production part. The machine uses digital light printing (DLP) stereolithography to project images into a liquid material, speedily producing fabulous, professional-looking 3D models and bringing users closer to market production.

3D Systems—a provider of additive manufacturing services, products and solutions—released FabPro 1000 to appeal to engineers, jewelers and dental professionals. FabPro 1000 walks the fine line between cost and quality, specializing in producing small yet high quality parts and prototypes in low volume. It is a surprisingly efficient option that is reportedly three times faster than competing systems.


Digital Light Printing Stereolithography

Sometimes fused deposition modeling (FDM) just can’t cut it. Sure, it’s great for printing helpful and cool little desk trinkets, but with the unavoidable look of layered plastic, can it really produce convincing and quality models of your product?

This is where DLP stereolithography shines (literally). In this additive manufacturing method, a photopolymer resin is exposed to UV light. The light hardens the photopolymer into the desired shape. Layer by layer, the part is created.

With the FabPro 1000 printer, you can create your models with three photopolymer resins provided by 3D Systems: FabPro Proto GRY (gray), meant for rapid prototyping, functional parts and display models; FabPro Tough BLK (black), a tougher material meant for mechanical assembly/fit testing, functional and life testing, and functional parts; and FabPro JewelCast GRN (green), meant for fine-featured jewel master patterns for gypsum investment casting. You pour one of these materials into a tray in the machine, and away it goes.

Two other materials are also available for the FabPro 1000 printer: NextDent Surgical Guide and NextDent Model. Sold by 3D Systems, these were specially developed for dental applications.

The three materials available for FabPro 1000. (Images courtesy of 3D Systems.)
Three materials available for FabPro 1000. (Images courtesy of 3D Systems.)


FabPro 1000

The FabPro1000 printer and included accessories. (Image courtesy of 3D Systems.)
The FabPro1000 printer and included accessories. (Image courtesy of 3D Systems.)

The FabPro 1000 printer is a hefty machine, massive enough to warrant delivery on a pallet. Coming in at 37.5kg (83lbs) and 43 x 43 x 61.2cm (16.9 x 16.9 x 24.1in), FabPro 1000 is certainly not the smallest 3D printer around, but it can fit on a desktop if you’re willing to give up some table space. The machine itself looks sleek and professional. It’s a beautiful addition to any lab or office.

The FabPro 1000 printer comes with an array of accessories, including a print tray (where you pour the material), two print platforms (which lower into the material for the DLP process), and a finishing kit with rinse tanks, nitrile gloves, pliers, film scrapers and almost everything else you need to finish your part. There are, however, some additional items you’ll need. The most significant of these is a UV post-curing unit, an oven in which you must cure the parts after printing. 3D Systems offers a model called the LC-3DPrint Box, which we used in our tests. You’ll also need to pick up some isopropyl alcohol, which is used to clean the parts in between the printing and curing.

The printer has a build volume of 125 x 70 x 120mm (4.92 x 2.76 x 4.72in), so you won’t be able to print a life-sized bust of yourself. However, it is more than enough space for the typical components the FabPro 1000 printer was made for. Plus, multiple parts can even be printed at once. The printer has a layer thickness of 30 to 50 microns.

On the outside of the FabPro 1000 printer is a single control button and small 16 x 100 pixel display reminiscent of a digital watch from 1985. Since the printer never has to say much more than “PRINTER READY” and “ADD MATL.,”a 1920 x 1080 touchscreen display probably would have been overkill.



The Printing Process

Screenshot of 3DSprint, used to prepare models for printing.
Screenshot of 3D Sprint, used to prepare models for printing.

There’s more involved in printing with FabPro 1000 than desktop FDM printers, but the extra effort is worth the extra quality of your printed parts. Setting up the machine is a fairly simple process that involves installing the print tray and print platform and wiring the printer into your network. Unfortunately, the printer cannot connect over Wi-Fi, so be sure you set it up somewhere near an ethernet port. If that’s not an option, FabPro 1000 does offer file transfer by USB.

To start printing, you’ll need to download 3D Sprint, 3D Systems’ desktop software for preparing a print job. In 3D Sprint, you’ll import a model (STL, OBJ, and many more formats are supported), scale and position it as you see fit, and add supports. 3D Sprint can auto-place your model and automatically generate supports, so it’s extremely simple to prepare. You then send the file off to the printer.

Once the file has been received, the FabPro 1000 printer will prompt you to add the material. To do so, you’ll first need to scan a QR code on the material bottle using a scanner inside the printer. This is either to ensure you’re using the same material you specified in 3D Sprint or to ensure you’re only using 3D Systems’ materials. After scanning, you fill the print tray with a few hundred grams of material, shut the door and press start.

The print time varies across a few factors. Obviously, the taller your part, the more time it’ll take to print. The material you use also has a significant effect on the time it takes to print. In our tests of the three materials, each printing the same small geodesic figurine, FabPro Proto GRY took about two and a half hours, FabPro Tough BLK took about four and FabPro JewelCast GRN took about 10. At any rate, 3D Systems advertises the FabPro 1000 printer as being significantly quicker than competing systems.

Printing with FabProJewelCast GRN took almost five times as long as FabPro Proto GRY and over twice as long as FabPro Tough BLK.
Printing with FabPro JewelCast GRN took almost five times as long as FabPro Proto GRY and over twice as long as FabPro Tough BLK.
Once the print is finished, there are still two steps before the part is ready: cleaning and curing. Cleaning can be done manually or with an ultrasonic cleaner. It involves washing the part in two isopropyl alcohol baths for a few minutes apiece. The exact timing depends on the specific material. You can also cut off the supports at this stage and clean the part with the included brush, if necessary. Once it’s properly cleaned, you must dry the part before curing it. We let ours air dry for an hour, but you can speed this along with compressed air if you have access to it.

To cure the part, you simply place it inside the UV post-curing unit (in our case, the LC-3DPrint Box). The time required for curing is again dependant on the material, ranging from 30 minutes to 150. Once the part comes out of the oven, it’s safe to handle and ready for use.

One other note: You’ll want to make sure both the FabPro 1000 printer and UV curing unit are placed in a well-ventilated area. They’ll both emit odorous fumes that can annoy coworkers—we have firsthand experience with this.

We tested out each of the three materials (excluding the NextDent ones) by printing a small geodesic figurine in each. This was the model we used:

Model of our test geodesic figurine.
Model of our test geodesic figurine.

Each material successfully printed this part, though there were some minor differences in the process and end result. The biggest difference was one we’ve already mentioned: the print time. If you’re looking for the quickest print, you’ll definitely want to go with FabPro Proto GRY. FabPro Tough BLK will nearly double that, but gives a more robust part. FabPro JewelCast GRN will double that time once more and should probably be avoided unless you’re using it for its intended purpose of creating jewel casts.

There are also differences in the time required for cleaning and curing. Though the cleaning times are negligible at a few minutes, both for ultrasonic and manual, the curing time will add at least 30 minutes to your print time (FabPro JewelCast GRN) and as much as 150 minutes (FabPro Tough BLK). Here’s a chart of the total time required for each material, with the print time based on a 50mm tall part like our geodesic:

Vertical Build Speed (mm/hour)

Print Time (min) for Part 50mm Tall

Curing Time (min)

Total (min)

FabPro Proto GRY

21

143

60

203

FabPro Tough BLK

14

214

150

364

FabPro JewelCast GRN

5.3

566

30

596

The other obvious difference between the materials is the color. As their names suggest, FabPro Proto GRY is gray, FabPro Tough BLK is black and FabPro JewelCast GRN is green. If the color of your part matters to you, that’s something you’ll want to consider.

From left to right, geodesic printed in FabPro Proto GRY,FabPro Tough BLK, and FabPro JewelCast GRN. Though it appears white in this lighting, the part on the left is actually light gray in color.
From left to right, geodesic printed in FabPro Proto GRY, FabPro Tough BLK, and FabPro JewelCast GRN. Though it appears white in this lighting, the part on the left is actually light gray in color.

While we don’t have the means at the engineering.com office to test the mechanical properties of each material, 3D Systems provides detailed specifications on its website, including properties like solid density, tensile strength and Shore hardness. What we can say is that all three materials look great and feel very sturdy, especially compared to parts from our desktop FDM printer.


The Verdict

FabPro 1000 is an excellent entry-level 3D printer that can produce good looking, high-quality parts. The DLP process employed in the FabPro 1000 printer will give you much better results than entry-level FDM printers, though at the cost of a little extra work in cleaning and curing the parts. The sleek-looking printer feels like a premium machine. As long as it’s well-ventilated, it will look good and work great in any setting. If you’re looking to incorporate additive manufacturing into your business and don’t know where to start, FabPro 1000 might be just what you’re looking for.

You can learn more about FabPro 1000 on the 3D Systems website.


Thanks to Juilver Ramirez for his contributions to this article.

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