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3D printing technology has long been heralded as the future of manufacturing. But today's technology is fundamentally flawed, according to Joe DeSimone, founder and CEO of 3D printing startup Carbon.

Speaking at The Next Billion: San Francisco conference on October 13, DeSimone said the promises of 3D printing have been many, including the ability to produce goods for sale on demand, localize production where products are sold, and offer mass customization to customers.

“All of these things have been teed up and talked about for nearly two decades,” he said. So why aren't they here?

One big problem is that objects made using classic, powder-based 3D printing technology do not have the properties to become final parts. Moreover, the current 3D production model is not economically viable. The parts are porous, and the manufacturing process takes forever. “3D printing hasn’t delivered,” DeSimone added.

Carbon aims to change that. Eighteen months ago, the company showed that it's possible to grow parts in a liquid solution the way you grow crystals in a lab. Carbon unveiled its new technology, Continuous Liquid Interface Production (CLIP), in Science magazine and on a TED stage.

Carbon’s M1 printer uses light as a "chisel” by projecting patterned light into a puddle of resin that defines how the finished product grows. DeSimone calls the technology a series of “software-controlled chemical reactions.” Instead of weak, dusty powders, the finished parts are made from the same high-grade cyanate ester resins used in aerospace applications. “It’s all about real parts,” DeSimone said. “Our partners are using these in surgical tools; we have parts on cars.”

Carbon’s process prints parts at 200mm per hour, which is significantly faster than most 3D printers currently on the market, according to DeSimone. The M1, which is available on an “as a service” basis for $40,000 per year, can even take a design that has a certain mass and allow the computer to determine how to make a similar part that has the same mass but much greater structural strength.

“This is what additive manufacturing and 3D printing enables,” DeSimone said. “And you don’t have to worry about how to manufacture it.”

3D printing: Lessons for leaders

  •   Today’s 3D printers excel at prototyping, but few can produce real parts. 
  •   Carbon's Continuous Liquid Interface Production technology produces real, durable parts at significantly faster speeds compared with traditional 3D printers.
  •   Using light as a control system in 3D production environments could change manufacturing and create new business models.

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