A new wave of industrial 3D printing technologies has emerged that signals an evolution of the technology as it becomes integrated into mainstream manufacturing. Among them is an ultrafast process known as Continuous Liquid Interface Production (CLIP), developed by Silicon Valley-based start-up Carbon.
The Carbon SpeedCell features a combination of the Carbon’s M1 or M2 3D printers with the new Smart Part Washer. (Image courtesy of Carbon.)
Previously rocking the world with its M1 3D printer, which is capable of producing engineering-grade parts in less than 10 minutes, Carbon has today announced the launch of SpeedCell, a system that combines the new M2 3D printer with the Smart Part Washer for automated part processing.
To learn about the new products and Carbon’s progress since receiving $81.1 million from GE Ventures, Nikon, JSR and BMW last fall, ENGINEERING.com spoke with the firm’s CEO Joseph DeSimone.
M2 + Smart Part Washer = SpeedCell
Carbon’s CLIP technology works by projecting LED light onto a vat of photopolymer resin, hardening the material into a shape dictated by a CAD file. The use of an oxygen permeable membrane allows this process to occur continuously, resulting in prints that are free from the layer lines visible in most 3D-printed plastic parts, as well as the weaknesses these parts feature along the Z-axis.
Parts printed with CLIP are subsequently exposed to heat, activating thermal properties within Carbon’s specially engineered resins. Combined with the isotropic strength possible with layerless printing, this second step gives CLIP-printed components physical characteristics akin to injection molded parts.
The M2 has twice the build volume of the M1 3D printer and can interface with industrial robotic arms. (Image courtesy of Carbon.)
Carbon has today announced a successor to the flagship M1 3D printer. With a design based on input from Carbon customers and strategic partners, such as General Electric
(GE), the SpeedCell is made up of the M2 3D printer and the Smart Part Washer. At 190mm x 118mm x 326mm, the M2 has twice the build volume of the M1 (141 mm x 79 mm x 326mm), making it possible to produce larger parts and batches of parts in a single print. The Smart Part Washer is an automated system that performs repeatable part washing, which is required for post-processing parts.
The SpeedCell product is meant to be extensible through the use of Carbon Connectors, making it possible to support future system capabilities developed for CLIP 3D printing, such as baking parts or automatically dispensing resin. To start, the SpeedCell solution is available in two configurations that are meant for design iteration and industrial manufacturing, respectively: the Design SpeedCell pairs a single M Series 3D printer with a Smart Part Washer, while the Production SpeedCell features multiple M2 printers with a Smart Part Washer.
DeSimone explained the reasoning behind the two versions. “The Design SpeedCell allows you to design products on the means of production,” DeSimone said. “On the same printer, on the same software, on the same resins, on the same part washer. That might just be one printer and one part washer. You design the entire product and then you can electronically send all the [Standard Operating Procedure] that you developed to a Production SpeedCell. It could be your SpeedCell in the same building, right next to the printer, or it could be a third party—a large contract manufacturer that’s got a bunch of printers that’s sort of a fee for service for that customer.”
The new products will be available through an annual subscription plan, with the M2 available at $50,000 per year, compared to the M1’s $40,000. The Smart Part Washer is available for $10,000 per year, but, for those looking to build out a CLIP farm, the Smart Part Washer is free until the end of 2017 for those with three or more printers. This is because the Smart Part Washer should be able to clean parts from a half dozen machines at once.
3D Printing as Manufacturing
When Carbon first came to market, its technology held the promise of end part manufacturing, due to the inherent isotropy of CLIP-printed parts and engineering-grade materials. The SpeedCell is meant to take this even further, according to DeSimone.
“The 3D printing world has been pretty much focused on supporting manufacturing mostly in a prototyping role,” DeSimone said. “What we’re excited about with the SpeedCell is the beginning of the various unit operations—printing, washing, ultimately baking and other steps—to have a full manufacturing solution where the digital thread is being maintained throughout the whole process.”
For Carbon, the SpeedCell is the beginning of automation for 3D printing plastic parts in a manufacturing environment. Parts can be 3D printed on the M2 and moved directly into post-processing. DeSimone explained that the M2 is more easily accessible with industrial robotic arms, which could be implemented to remove the print platform from an M2 and slide it into the Smart Part Washer when ready.
Thanks to an NFC chip on the print platform and an NFC reader in the Smart Part Washer, data associated with a certain job is registered at each step so that a manufacturer will know exactly where those components are during the production process.
This also enables traceability and accountability throughout the production process, as the exact resin vat, M2 and Smart Part Washer units and other details are maintained with the print platform. This is particularly important for industries like aerospace and medical devices, where accountability is crucial.
Perhaps more importantly for manufacturing, however, is the ability to actually design and produce products using the same exact technology. DeSimone pointed out that, when one designs for injection molding, the products aren’t designed with the tooling itself. Instead, they are prototyped with 3D printing, which can mostly validate the form and fit of a part with limited functional value, and then tooling is made for the ultimate manufacturing process.
“What’s really turning out to be dramatic [for our customers] is designing products on the means of production,” DeSimone said. “Typically, if you replicate a product on [a traditional 3D printer], it doesn’t allow you to scale it up. We call that prototyping. If you can design a product on the means of production, then you’re actually just iterating. You’re going to iterate through your designs, and then when you finally get it right you can just start producing it.”
In this way, 3D printing doesn’t just speed up the design process through quick iteration, but it speeds up the production process as well because it does away with the need for tooling entirely.
The Evolution of CLIP
DeSimone explained that the start-up’s investments have been key in helping the company develop and expand. It’s been only a year since Carbon released its flagship product, and the firm is already releasing a follow-up system. At the same time, it is expanding its markets. As mentioned when it received its $81.1 million investment last fall, Carbon is moving into the Asian market. DeSimone said that the machines will also have a CE marking of approval, allowing Carbon to enter the European market, as well.
As the company continues to grow, it will also evolve its technology, thanks to the unique hardware and software models associated with its products. “We’re pushing software every five or six weeks to the printers, the same way that your phone gets an upgrade,” DeSimone said. “Right now, there’s hardware that we manipulate in the printer—for example, change the oxygen concentration or change the light intensities. We give customers new features as we develop them. The Carbon Connectors allow us to take that a step further. For example, we’re working on automated resin delivery and mixing system. It won’t be long before a piece of hardware that we develop as a module can be tied into the M2.”
In other words, the use of these hardware connectors enables Carbon to more progressively upgrade its hardware the same way that it upgrades its software. Though these features may ultimately be integrated into future generations of printers, users can immediately take advantage of them as they are developed.
To demonstrate the power of this technology, Carbon will be taking its new technology to Additive Manufacturing Users Group (AMUG) in Chicago from March 19–23. To learn more about the SpeedCell, visit Carbon’s website.