One always has to be skeptical of seemingly outlandish claims made on April 1, but this is no joke. Carbon (Redwood City, CA), the developer of a 3D-printing system described in PlasticsToday just over a year ago as a “quantum leap in 3D-printing technology” capable of printing parts as much as 100 times faster than conventional techniques, has introduced its first commercial 3D printer. The M1 “produces high-resolution parts with engineering-grade mechanical properties and surface finish,” according to the company. The company has also unveiled seven proprietary resins and it is making the system available to industrial customers via a unique subscription model.
When we wrote about the technology in March 2015, we likened it to the T-1000 robot in Terminator 2 that could constitute itself from a puddle of mercury-like liquid. Carbon’s Continuous Liquid Interface Production (CLIP) technology uses finely tuned light and oxygen to continuously grow objects from a pool of resin, rather than creating them layer-by-layer, as conventional 3D printing does. Since then, the company has worked with a number of customers, including Ford, Johnson & Johnson and BMW and it says that it has tested parts in high-stress production applications, such as automobile engines and interiors. The M1 is being used to shorten product development cycles; address new lightweight, high-strength geometries; and produce custom medical devices, says Carbon.
With the introduction of the M1, product designers and engineers can produce parts that have the resolution, surface finish and mechanical properties required for both functional prototyping and production-quality parts, claims the company. “Internet-connected and data-rich, the M1 collects over one million process control data points per day. This makes it possible for Carbon to provide precise remote diagnostics, assist with print optimization, and improve print quality over time,” notes the company in a press release.
Venture capitalists are impressed. “Carbon has raised more than $140 million in venture funding, 10-fold the typical 3D-printing success story, from the likes of Google Ventures and Sequoia Capital,” writes Jack Clark in Bloomberg BusinessWeek. The one caveat, notes Clark, is the novelty of the technology: It hasn’t been around long enough to demonstrate the strength and durability of plastic parts made with the system. The properties of the plastics “tend to degrade over time, which is why they’re not used for the manufacturing of most products that use plastics,” Terry Wohlers, President of consulting firm Wohlers Associates, told Clark. However, adds Clark, none of the early adopters have come back with broken parts.
|3D-printed living hinge.|
The resins introduced today are as follows:
- A family of three rigid polyurethanes (RPUs), which the company describes as its stiffest and most versatile polyurethane-based resin. The materials combine strength, stiffness, and toughness, making them suitable for consumer electronics, automotive and industrial components where mechanical properties are especially important.
- A semi-rigid flexible polyurethane (FP) with impact, abrasion and fatigue resistance. The material is designed for applications that require the toughness to withstand repetitive stresses such as hinging mechanisms and friction fits.
- A high-performance elastomeric polyurethane (EPU) that exhibits optimal elastic behavior under cyclical tensile and compressive loads. EPU is useful for demanding applications where high elasticity, impact and tear resistance are needed, such as cushioning, gaskets, and seals.
- A high-performance cyanate ester-based (CE) resin with heat deflection temperatures up to 219°C. CE is useful for under-the-hood applications, electronics and industrial components.
- A prototyping resin (PR) that prints quickly with good resolution. The material reportedly performs well enough to withstand moderate functional testing. It is available in six colors—cyan, magenta, yellow, black, white and gray—that can be mixed to create custom colors.
Carbon is making the M1 available via a unique subscription-pricing model. The annual cost includes a hands-on service team. Carbon adds that it leverages its internet-connected software architecture to collect operational data and deliver a predictive service model and seamless machine updates. Bloomberg BusinessWeek reports that Carbon charges $40,000 a year to rent one of its printers and get software updates, plus an installation fee of $10,000 and $79 to $399 for every fifth of a gallon of liquid plastic.