An old way of pulling finished prints out of polymer just got a hundred times faster.
You’d be forgiven for not knowing where the bleeding edge of 3D printing is. The technology only became visible in the last 30 years, under the name of “rapid prototyping” technologies. Today, there seems to be a Kickstarter or start up for some new 3D printing tech behind every click. They are either getting cheaper or smaller or more user-friendly or faster. But nothing on the market is anywhere close to what company Carbon3D is unveiling.
The 3D printing you’re likely familiar with is called Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM). Patented in 1989, this is where an extruder deposits a layer of material one 2D slice at a time to render a complete 3D object from the ground up, according to a computer model. This is the process used in most entry-level 3D printers, and the one most available to the public. However, the true origin of the 3D printer was a few years before. In 1986, the first patent was issued for a stereolithography appartus (SLA), which printed objects not with additive layers, but with light.
Instead of depositing some polymer one layer at a time, SLA uses a ultra-violet laser to trace out 2D cross sections in a pool of resin. The UV light quickly cures the resin at the bottom of the vat, making a layer to build upon.
Another process, called Digital Light Projection or DLP, works in much the same way. But DLP projects a full cross section from below the vat onto a plate that is slowly pulled upwards to cure the next layer.
All of the current 3D printing techniques have their advantages. They also share one disadvantage: they are slow. That’s where Carbon3D’s “breakthrough” CLIP technique comes in. It’s a hundred times faster than any printer to date.
Continuous Liquid Interface Production or CLIP 3D printing is a rapid form of DLP printing. DLP builds models by projecting cross sections from the bottom of the printer up into a resin-filled vat and onto a plate, which is slowly pulled upwards. A clear glass plate at the bottom of an apparatus allows light to pass through and affect the resin. CLIP does almost the same thing, but the glass barrier is replaced with a window that oxygen can cross.
Oxygen is the enemy of 3D printing techniques that cure resin in a pool like CLIP, SLA, or DLP. The element prevents hardening from happening even if UV light is shining. But CLIP takes advantage of this. By using a window that allows oxygen through, a razor-thin “dead zone” is created directly above it. It is in this interface that is the width of 2-3 blood cells where a controlled and fluid hardening of resin occurs.
The exact details on how CLIP works will be outlined this Friday in the journal Science. For now, the results speak for themselves. For example, the Solidator DLP 3D printer can print 0.1 millimeters of an object every 10 seconds. The Kudo3D SLA/DLP printer can craft around 2 inches per hour. The Kast 3D printer, claimed to be 5-12 times faster than other SLA/DLP printers, prints at 5 inches per hour.
Carbon3D CLIP technology can print up to 40 inches per hour.
By allowing a specific amount of oxygen to bleed through the window at the bottom of the device, CLIP technology can rapidly fabricate objects, at high resolutions, with none of the layered qualities of other printers.
Speed isn’t the only aspect of 3D printing CLIP could revolutionize. By using a process that avoids the layering effects of other 3D printing techniques, CLIP can build objects out of materials that aren’t simply rigid plastics. Using what is basically rubber, CLIP can print objects that bounce.
Carbon3D has apparently come out of nowhere with a way to 3D print objects 100 times faster than the printers the public is familiar with. It seems too good to be true, like some over-hyped fluke. But with $41 million raised in partnership with one of the largest venture capital firms on the planet and another leader in technology investing, CLIP could be a legitimate leap forward when it hits the market.
IMAGES: Carbon3D, Inc.