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Startup Says New 3-D Printing Technique Could Shift Use From Prototype to Production

Carbon3D, which has raised $41 million, is showing its technique for the first time at the TED conference in Vancouver.

Ina Fried

Already, 3-D printing has emerged as a means for rapidly making prototypes of new products. But Carbon3D says its new process could allow 3-D printing to also be a useful means of mass production.

Carbon3D’s approach works by using light and oxygen to grow objects from a pool of resin, while conventional 3-D printing creates objects layer by layer. The company says its approach, known as CLIP, for Continuous Liquid Interface Production, is 25-100 times faster than traditional 3-D printing and can work with a broad array of materials.

The Redwood City, Calif.-based company is debuting its technology later on Monday at the TED conference in Vancouver.

“Current 3-D printing technology has failed to deliver on its promise to revolutionize manufacturing,” Carbon3D co-founder and CEO Joseph DeSimone said in a statement. “Our CLIP technology offers the game-changing speed, consistent mechanical properties and choice of materials required for complex commercial quality parts.”

Carbon3D has backing from Sequoia Capital, which led a Series A in 2013, and Silver Lake Kraftwerk, which led a Series B round in 2014. Other backers include Northgate Partners, Piedmont Capital Partners and Wakefield Group, with a total of $41 million having been raised so far.

“When we met Joe and saw what his team had invented, it was immediately clear to us that 3-D printing would never be the same,” Sequoia partner and Carbon3D board member Jim Goetz said in a statement. “If 3-D 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 3-D printing’s fundamental weaknesses.”


Update, 6:52 pm: DeSimone is demonstrating the technology now, and says it has been two years in development.

To show the technology, he holds up a complex spherical device that can’t be made using milling or injection molding and would take hours using traditional 3-D printing.

“There are mushrooms that grow faster than 3-D printed parts,” he said.

By contrast, DeSimone managed to grow the shape using Carbon3D’s technology in just the first few minutes of his TED talk.

Among the influences for Carbon3D’s technology, DeSimone said, was the scene from “Terminator 2” where a liquid metal rises into any sort of object. “That was our challenge,” he said.

While today’s Carbon3D machines can print up to 100 times faster than layer-based 3-D printing, the technology could go faster still, he said.

“We can go a thousand times faster, I believe,” DeSimone said, though that may require liquid cooling to deal with all the heat being generated.

Among the possibilities are custom designed heart stents that can be printed in real-time in an emergency room or dental technology that can be made while you are in the dentist’s chair.

DeSimone said that the technology can also use a wider range of materials and generate the kind of structural soundness needed for production gear.

In addition to the TED demonstration, the next issue of Science magazine devotes its cover story to Carbon3D’s technology.

8:21 pm: The company isn’t saying how much the machine will cost, but DeSimone said the company is in the process of turning it into a shipping product. It is already in testing at a few companies, including an automotive company, an athletic apparel company, a design studio and an academic research lab.

“We expect within a year we will be commercializing,” he told Re/code.

The unit shown at TED creates objects up to three inches by four inches and up to 12 inches long. Carbon3D has other size machines it is testing to make both larger and smaller items. Among the first commercial uses, DeSimone said, could be digital dentistry.

“We’re really great at teeth,” he said, noting molds can be done in six minutes that normally take hours to fabricate.

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