In the land of Best Practices, 3D printing — or additive manufacturing — is taking off. Using this technology to turn out finished goods — not just prototypes — is happening right now.
Carbon Inc., a 5-year-old Silicon Valley company, touts its 3D printing technology as a breakthrough way to make 3D parts much quicker than before: print speeds of minutes instead of hours and use of engineering-grade materials with a high level of detail resolution and surface finish.
You may have heard about Carbon's high-visibility collaboration with Adidas to make Futurecraft 4D, an athletic shoe with a 3D printed midsole. Additive manufacturing comes to the masses.
Carbon machines also have found a home in medical devices and the dental market, quickly churning out one-off dentures and other custom products.
Now Carbon is moving into the world of injection molding and urethane casting.
The CEO of Carbon of Redwood City, Calif., is Joseph DeSimone, who co-founded Carbon in 2013. A polymer chemist and longtime professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, DeSimone took leave to become CEO.
The company has an interesting business model. Carbon does not sell machines outright to anybody. Instead, customers lease machines on a subscription model. Why? Customers can get into additive manufacturing for a reasonable price, and they don't have to worry about the machine becoming outdated in a few years. Best Practices calls that the "Curse of the Smartphone."
The subscription model allows Carbon to go in and give real-time software updates to the machines. Carbon also constantly works to develop resin formulations, and as people in the plastics industry know, new material development is where the real action is today.
Carbon uses the term "production partners" — a good way to quickly describe this model where customers don't own a Carbon machine, but they buy printing material from Carbon.
Best Practices knows that the rhetoric around additive manufacturing can get overheated. No, it's not going to replace injection molding for mass production. But for shorter runs or making quick design changes, additive manufacturing has a bright future.
How does Carbon's fast printing work? The innovation is something called Clip, which stands for Continuous Liquid Interface Production. Carbon officials say Clip can churn out parts from engineering-grade materials that have exceptional resolution and surface finish.
Standard 3D printing builds up a part layer by layer, a time-consuming process. Carbon said its continuous-process technology has a print speed that makes durable products in minutes.
The company's Digital Light Synthesis technology, driven by Carbon's Clip process, harnesses digital light and oxygen permeable optics to rapidly produce objects from a pool of liquid resin. The curing is done in a precisely controlled way.