If there’s one name that’s been hot on the lips of everyone in the 3D printing world, it’s the rising star formerly known as Carbon3D - Carbon. For months the industry has been equally excited and speculative about a technology that promised to change the game in terms of build speed. But in the weeks leading up to the Silicon Valley startup’s product launch, we learned that the story here isn’t really about speed, it’s about something much more significant and potentially ground-breaking for the industry; materials.
I met with Carbon’s dream team during a panel session with Joe DeSimone, CEO and Co-founder; Jason Rolland, Vice President of Materials; and Kirk Phelps, Vice President of Product Management, at AMUG 2016.
Speaking about the company’s collective disciplinary diversity of materials researchers, hardware, software engineers and developer experience from the original iPhone team, Joe says he believes this diversity of people is a “fundamental tenant of innovation”.
“When you start a company, getting the right people in the very beginning is essential,” Joe commented. “The Valley has an amazing can-do culture there’s an ecosystem to tap into of fabrication and capabilities.”
Listening to Joe, who describes himself as “a polymer guy”, dressed casually in a smart jacket and trainers combo, he’s not talking in the sound bites you might expect from someone heading up a company that’s been hyped to this level. Instead he paints a California-cool picture of employees bringing their dogs to work and spending lunch breaks doing group fitness activities – and you can very much believe that’s exactly how it is.
Carbon’s M1 machine, the first to utilise Continuous Liquid Interface Production (CLIP), is itself a sleek and modern product. Standing at around 6ft tall, the machine is full of cool gadgets and features including a browser-based interface and foot-operated sensor that activates the closure of the screen.
Of course, it’s all fair and well to have a machine that looks good – and it really does look good – but the real test is whether the parts match up. The parts on show in Carbon’s Apple store-styled room, paired with their exact print times, were very impressive and that’s thanks to the strong line-up of materials - one member of the Carbon team told me that he’d used one of these functional parts on his very own car.
There are five classes of resins:
- RPU - Carbon’s stiffest and most versatile polyurethanebased resin
- FPU - Flexible Polyurethane, a semi-rigid material with good impact, abrasion and fatigue resistance
- EPU - Elastomeric Polyurethane is a high performance polymeric elastomer
- CE: Cyanate Ester-based resin, high performance material with heat deflection temperatures up to 219°C
- PR: Prototyping Resin available in six colours, prints quickly, has excellent resolution, and can withstand moderate functional testing.
“The reason they feel like real parts is because it’s real chemistry,” Kirk explained. “We’re not confined to this small area of chemistry that’s just light activated we get to a play into this much larger area of chemistries and that allows us to make real parts. From a customer perspective, it’s great to say ‘hey those chemistries you’re already using in urethane casting or reaction injection moulding, we have these very similar resins that are from the same chemical families’.”
Jason added: “Ours behave like real parts so you can take this and go really crazy on it. We have videos of us rolling over it with a steam roller - they behave like the plastic objects people are used to in their everyday lives.”
RPU bike pedals.
One of the biggest surprises of the M1 launch was its unique leasing system, an industry first which sees the machine available on a 3-year minimum subscription basis priced at $40,000 per year. The idea is to bring together the printer, software and service to provide a futureproof model that is accessible and constantly updated with the latest technology.
Kirk explained: “We said not only should we design the product to be a great product experience but let’s design our business model to align our incentives with our customers so that when they subscribe to a Carbon printer they can be assured that the product experience is going to be great all of the time.”
Much of this is thanks to the connected nature of the machine built with a web server-based architecture, which allows new data to be pushed out to all printers as new resins are developed. Joe envisions a sort of ‘resin app store’, which will be continuously updated with the latest materials.
Jason adds: “The printer doesn’t become irrelevant. If we introduce a new resin you don’t have to get a new printer - we can upgrade your software.”
This combination of connectivity and materials science are what Carbon believes is going to really excite future users. Learning with customers which already include Ford, Johnson & Johnson and BMW, and having a platform that’s ready to be upgraded for future innovations, I’m positive we’re going to see more of the unexpected coming out of The Valley.
Joe commented: “The more people use the printer the better it’s going to get because we’ll take this aggregated knowledge of all these different arbitrary shapes and we’ll constantly improve the process.”
Joe DeSimone talks groundbreaking materials and CLIP at the TCT presented CES 3D Printing Conference.