by Brian Krassenstein
In what may be one of the biggest stories we have covered this year, a new company, Carbon3D has just emerged out of stealth mode, unveiling an entirely new breakthrough 3D printing process, which is anywhere between 25 and 100 times faster than what’s available on the market today.
The privately-held Redwood City, California-based company, Carbon3D, was founded in 2013, and since then has been secretly perfecting a new 3D printing technology which promises to change the industry forever. The technology that the company calls Continuous Liquid Interface Production technology (CLIP) works by harnessing the power of light and oxygen to cure a photosensitive resin. Sounds an awful lot like Stereolithography (SLA) technology, doesn’t it? While it uses principles we see within a typical SLA process, where a laser or projector cures a photosensitive resin, Carbon3D’s CLIP process strays greatly from the technology that we are all used to seeing.
Instead of printing an object layer-by-layer, which leads to incredibly slow speeds as well as a weak overall structure similar to that of shale, this new process harnesses light as a way to cure the resin, and oxygen as an inhibiting agent, to print in true 3-dimensional fashion.
“Current 3D printing technology has failed to deliver on its promise to revolutionize manufacturing,” said Dr. Joseph DeSimone, CEO and Co-Founder, Carbon3D. “Our CLIP technology offers the game-changing speed, consistent mechanical properties and choice of materials required for complex commercial quality parts.”
By bringing oxygen into the equation, a traditionally mechanical technique for 3D printing suddenly becomes a tunable photochemical process which rapidly decreases production times, removes the layering effect, and provides a technology which may just take 3D printing to the next level. The CLIP process relies on a special transparent and permeable window which allows both light and oxygen to get through. Think of it as a large contact lens. The machine then is able to control the exact amount of oxygen and when that oxygen is permitted into the resin pool. The oxygen thus acts to inhibit the resin from curing in certain areas as the light cures those areas not exposed to the oxygen. Thus the oxygen is able to create a ‘dead zone’ within the resin which is as small as tens of microns thick (about the diameter of 2-3 red blood cells). In this subsection of the resin, it is literally impossible for photopolymerization to take place. The machine will then produce a series of cross sectional images using UV light in a fashion similar to playing a movie.
For those of you who are thinking right now, “This company must be a fluke. After all, how could they have created such a breakthrough 3D printing technique but we’ve yet to hear a peep from them,” the next tidbit of information will certainly diminish your doubts.
Carbon3D has managed to partner with Sequoia Capital, one of the oldest and most successful venture capital firms on the planet, to lead their Series A round of financing in 2013, and with Silver Lake Kraftwerk for their Series B round. In total, they have raised $41 million to date, all practically under the radar.
“If 3D printing hopes to break out of the prototyping niche it has been trapped in for decades, we need to find a disruptive technology that attacks the problem from a fresh perspective and addresses 3D printing’s fundamental weaknesses,” said Jim Goetz, Carbon3D board member and Sequoia partner. “When we met Joe and saw what his team had invented, it was immediately clear to us that 3D printing would never be the same.”
The CLIP process was originally developed by the company’s CEO, Joseph DeSimone, along with his colleagues Professor Edward Samulski, and Dr. Alex Ermoshkin. It’s going to be very interesting to see just how this technology ultimately plays out, and when it may come to market. Now that the company is out of stealth mode, will the larger players within the space try acquiring them? Let’s hear your thoughts on this breaking story in the Carbon3D forum thread on 3DPB.com