Carbon Officially Releases Ultra-Fast 3D Printer
Michael Molitch-Hou posted on April 07, 2016 | 11966 views

It was last year that a startup called Carbon had exploded onto the scene when Cofounder and Chief Executive Officer Joseph DeSimone unveiled during a TED talk what he called Continuous Liquid Interface Production (CLIP) technology, described as 100 times faster than existing 3D printing methods. Since the big unveil, news has built up around the technology, including word of a USD$10 million investment from Autodesk in Carbon and, later, a USD$100 million investment round led by Google Ventures.

But it wasn’t until 2016 that the public could get their hands on Carbon’s unique 3D printing process. In March, the startup announced that four 3D printing service bureaus would begin offering CLIP 3D printing services to customers. Then, on April 1, Carbon finally unveiled the M1 3D printer, the first 3D printing system with CLIP technology that customers could purchase—well, more accurately, could subscribe to through a rental program.

So, how does the M1 work? Carbon’s CLIP process is a novel take on DLP, or digital light processing, additive manufacturing, which typically uses a standard LCD projector to harden ultraviolet-sensitive resin (also known as a photopolymer) one layer at a time. With each layer, the print is pulled up out of a vat of resin until the part is complete. Carbon has built the M1 with a custom LED light engine—rather than an LCD projector—but the key to the CLIP process is an oxygen-permeable window through which the light is cast onto the liquid resin. This window creates what Carbon calls a “dead zone,” a layer of uncured resin between the window and the hardened resin attached to the ascending print bed. The result is a continuous 3D printing process in which the material is cured without visible layers.

Not only does this allow for rapid 3D printing, between 25 to 100 times faster than other technologies, but the parts that CLIP produces are described as having properties similar to those manufactured with injection molding. Due to the continuous printing process, objects made with CLIP don’t have the same microscopic holes seen in traditional 3D-printed parts. Additionally, CLIP components are isotropic, meaning that their interior makeup is consistent in every direction, which cannot be said for items made with most other commercial 3D printing processes.

Carbon’s elastomeric polyurethane material is elastic yet tear resistant. (Image courtesy of Carbon/YouTube.)
Carbon’s elastomeric polyurethane material is elastic yet tear resistant. (Image courtesy of Carbon/YouTube.)

Finally, Carbon’s materials are engineered in such a way that, in addition to the UV-curing chemistry in other resins, another heat-activated reactive element is included in the formula for further curing, making the parts stronger overall. And, with the release, Carbon has also unveiled five different materials that range from tough and flexible polyurethanes to temperature-resistant resins.

Carbon’s flexible polyurethane material is semi-rigid and tough. (Image courtesy of Carbon/YouTube.)
Carbon’s flexible polyurethane material is semi-rigid and tough. (Image courtesy of Carbon/YouTube.)

As followers of Carbon have been waiting for the ultimate commercial release of CLIP technology, various questions have arisen, such as, “how much will it cost?” The answer to that question is an interesting one. Rather than sell the M1 directly to customers, Carbon is actually renting the system out at a price of, according to Bloomberg, USD$40,000 a year. That doesn’t include the USD$10,000 installation fee and the cost of material that will need to be purchased, which ranges from USD$79 to USD$399 per bottle.

Though the price may seem high for those looking to purchase a Tesla Model 3 for even less, Carbon suggests that the subscription model actually increases accessibility to the M1. Rather than pay the full overhead associated with industrial 3D printing technology, a USD$40,000 subscription allows for a more immediate rental with the ability to upgrade when new printers are released. The price may not seem unreasonable to Carbon’s target customers, which already include Johnson & Johnson, Ford and BMW.

Certainly those companies will be looking to exploit the cost benefits allowed by the Carbon system, particularly in terms of designing rapid prototypes, mold designs and, with the range of high-end resins, even potentially end-use parts. One of the downsides of 3D printing was the speed, which previously meant that end-use parts could only be made in small volume. With the promise of 100x-faster prints and high-end materials, that could all be about to change.

About the Author

Michael Molitch-Hou is a 3D printing specialist and the founder of The Reality™ Institute, a service institute dedicated to determining what’s real and what’s not so that you don’t have to. He is a graduate of the MFA critical studies and writing program at CalArts, and a firm advocate of world peace.

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