James Cameron’s 1991 Terminator sequel, Terminator 2: Judgment Day, took the special effects handbook and blew it out of the water; the depiction of its liquid metal, shape-shifting villain set the bar to which visual effects artists would forever strive. The world’s most renowned film critic, Roger Ebert said:
“…While that’s happening on the story level, the movie surpasses itself with special effects. There are the usual car chases, explosions and fight scenes, of course, all well done, but what people will remember is the way the movie envisions T-1000.”
While James Cameron is oft considered a visionary and a pioneer (incidentally, particularly in the field of 3D for Avatar), even he could not envisage that his concepts for a movie bad-guy could inspire a revolution in manufacturing but, as anybody who has seen Joseph DeSimone’s TED talk from the 2015 conference can attest, it may well have just done that.
“The founders, just like anyone else, were caught up by the 3D printing excitement that was going on and thought ‘maybe there’s a way we can improve this’.” Explains Carbon3D’s Chief Strategy Officer Rob Schoeben. “They quite literally thought of the Terminator 2 clip, they saw the T-1000 growing out of the liquid pool into a fully formed object with next to no waste. They thought ‘that’s not at all how 3D printing works today but it should be.”
An average Joe may have just had this thought and not done anything about it but Joseph DeSimone is not your average Joe; he is one of fewer than 20 people in history to have been elected to all three National US Academies – The National Academy of Engineering, The National Academy of Science and the Institute of Medicine; he was also the winner of the über prestigious Lemelson-MIT $500,000 first prize for his invention PRINT Technology, used to manufacture nanocarriers in medicine.
Carbon3D in action.
Hasta la Vista, layers!
Armed with this wealth of knowledge in the sciences and that T-1000 theory Joseph DeSimone and his Carbon3D co-founders set about creating an entirely new 3D printing technique, one that was faster and had better mechanical strengths than currents technologies. After two years in stealth Joseph DeSimone took to the TED2015 stage in Vancouver and unleashed Carbon3D’s technology to the world.
“In a world of a lot of hyperbole we wanted to be able to come out in a way that was very tangible, it was important for us not just do a great presentation but show it in action at the same time,” details Schoeben. “We went to TED with a fully-functional device and we did a live technology demo with no safety net.”
At the start of DeSimone’s 10-minute presentation an empty build platform lowered into a pool of resin, before the clock ticked down the machine completed its task and revealed a concentric geodesic ball that could not be manufactured in any other way. It’s the sort of thing we’re used to seeing produced in that timeframe only via a time-lapse video on YouTube.
Carbon3D’s technology purports to be 25-100 times faster than current 3D printing technologies, in his TED talk DeSimone says that it has the potential to be 1,000 times faster. Not only are the parts printed faster but there’s in no layering, parts are monolithic. This isn’t DLP on draft setting, this is Continuous Liquid Interface Production or to give it its snappier name CLIP.
How CLIP works.
CLIP’s ability to manufacture parts suitable enough for end-use at a previously unachievable speed comes from Carbon3D’s fresh approach to printing with resin. Like many printers on the market it uses a DLP projector to display cross-sectional UV images into a pool of resin from beneath but whereas many of these processes require mechanical repositioning after each layer CLIP can continuously grow the object by harnessing both light and oxygen thanks to its oxygen permeable window (similar to that of a contact lens) and a “dead zone” - a thin layer of uncured resin between the window and the object..
Printing your clothes, your boots, your motorcycle
As well as the breakneck speed and layerless properties Carbon3D also claim that one of the main benefits of CLIP Technology is the ability to throw the entire polymer chemistry textbook at the machine. If true this could be revolutionary to both the 3D printing industry and manufacturing industry as a whole.
On this note esteemed industry consultant Todd Grimm told TCT: “I see a direct, negative impact on all photopolymer-based technologies, including SLA, DLP and jetting. The speed improvement is significant and the promised level of detail and surface finish are outstanding. CLIP could displace all of these as the technology of choice for model-making, prototyping and pattern-making. If the materials don’t offer an advantage over current photopolymers, CLIP could still displace the established technologies in production applications like hearing aids and clear orthodontics. But if the claims of advance materials are proven true, Carbon3D should be able to open the doors for direct production in those applications that demand high detail.”
And this is Carbon3D’s aim; not to compete with fellow 3D printers but to compete with injection moulding. They’re no fly by night, this is a company who, as well as being headed up by one of the most decorated scientists in the world, have received $41m in funding during their two year stealth period, a company who have recruited a 40 plus strong team from companies like Apple, Microsoft from Ivy League Universities, a company who have already set the bar so high for themselves.
“We’re building serious machines for serious companies that are trying to produce final parts.” Says Schoeben. “The Holy Grail is to connect that digital thread from design to prototype right through to 3D manufacturing and Carbon3D as new entrants to this industry will take up the mantle of connecting the thread all the way through because it has been stuck for too long.
He continues, “There’s an opportunity to fundamentality change the means of production. We’re trying to enable a new network of manufacturing, lower the barrier to entry and to remove the design constraints without compromise. End products have to be good, it is not ok to say ‘well, this thing isn’t that good but it was 3D printed and because that’s cool I’ll accept the compromises.’ Why do we deserve to set a lower bar for products just because it is 3D printed?
“The injection moulding world has constraints and in the places were those constraints are not acceptable we need to meet injection moulding on their terms and trump them at the things we’re good at.”
Carbon3D have stated that it will be released as a full product within 12 months; the clock started ticking the moment Joseph DeSimone stepped onto that TED stage. One thing’s for sure, Carbon3D is a story that will continue to run and for this reason… I’ll be back.