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Jeffrey Rowe has more than 40 years of experience in all aspects of industrial design, mechanical engineering, and manufacturing. On the publishing side, he has written well over 1,000 articles for CAD, CAM, CAE, and other technical publications, as well as consulting in many capacities in the … More »
Carbon 3D: Taking AM From Prototyping To Production
May 24th, 2018 by Jeff Rowe
Carbon is an additive manufacturing system company that bridges hardware, software, and molecular science to further digital 3D manufacturing that goes far beyond prototyping. With Carbon’s Digital Light Synthesis (DLS) technology and its SpeedCell system, manufacturers can explore new business opportunities such as mass customization, on-demand inventory, and differentiated products made with unique functional materials.
Carbon’s vision is a future fabricated with light, where traceable, final-quality parts are produced at scale with Continuous Liquid Interface Production (CLIP) technology. CLIP is a fast photochemical process that eliminates the shortcomings of conventional 3D printing by using light and oxygen to rapidly produce objects from a pool of resin.
Carbon entered the market just over three years ago with its innovative resin-based 3D printing technology, bringing to market its first 3D printer, the M1, a year later. The SpeedCell system with the M2 3D printer and Smart Part Washer was introduced in 2017.
Carbon M1 3D Printer Demonstration
Despite industry advances, traditional approaches to additive manufacturing force trade-offs between surface finish and mechanical properties. In contrast, DLS (Digital Light Synthesis) technology, enabled by Carbon’s proprietary CLIP process, is a unique technology that uses digital light projection, oxygen permeable optics, and programmable liquid resins to produce parts with excellent mechanical properties, resolution, and surface finish.
Traditionally 3D printed parts have been notoriously inconsistent. Conventional 3D printed materials often exhibit variable strength and mechanical properties depending on the direction in which they were printed. DLS parts behave consistently in all directions. The resolution and gentleness of the process — where parts aren’t harshly repositioned with every slice — make it possible to exploit a range of materials that have surface finish and detail needed for end–use parts.
CLIP is a photochemical process that carefully balances light and oxygen to rapidly produce parts. It works by projecting light through an oxygen-permeable window into a reservoir of UV-curable resin. As a sequence of UV images are projected, the part solidifies and the build platform rises.
The heart of the CLIP process is the “dead zone” – a thin, liquid interface of uncured resin between the window and the printing part. Light passes through the dead zone, curing the resin above it to form a solid part. Resin flows beneath the curing part as the print progresses, maintaining the “continuous liquid interface” that powers CLIP.
Once a part is printed with CLIP, it’s baked in a forced-circulation oven. Heat sets off a secondary chemical reaction that causes the materials to adapt and strengthen.
The M1 was the first printer to employ Carbon’s Digital Light Synthesis technology, delivering layerless, high resolution end-use parts with exceptional surface finish and resolution. Featuring a 5.6″ x 3.1″ x 12.8″ (141mm x 79mm x 326mm) build volume and high resolution 75 µm pixels, the M1 is best suited for functional prototyping and low-volume manufacturing.
The M1 relies on a custom LED light projector to cast masks of light onto a vat of ultraviolet-sensitive resin (also known as a photopolymer). The light hardens the resin onto a printbed, which is lifted out of the vat layer by layer. Between the photopolymer and the projector is an oxygen-permeable window that creates a layer of uncured resin allowing for fast 3D printing.
The Carbon M1 Printer
The CLIP process also results in objects fabricated with visibly imperceptible layers, typically seen with many other 3D printing technologies. The lack of obvious layers has significance on the microscopic level, where there are no pores that might contribute to the weakness of a part. This interior makeup is consistent in every direction, providing further strength, and the addition of a heat-activated element to the chemistry of the resins results in additional strength as well.
Other specifications include a billet aluminum platform, a foot-activated door and a cassette that includes the oxygen-permeable window, which is described as “easy to clean.” The M1 has its own built-in server, but also connects to a cloud-based server through its onboard Wi-Fi for cloud control and software updates. This also allows for remote diagnostics and support.
With a build volume measuring 7.4″ x 4.6″ x 12.8″ (189mm x 118mm x326mm), manufacturing features, and Carbon’s DLS technology, the M2 was developed for the SpeedCell system aimed at contract manufacturers and 3D printing service bureaus.
The Carbon M2 Printer
The M2 3D printer has twice the build volume of its predecessor. The M2 can also be integrated into a robot-controlled fabrication system. “You could have a fleet of printers serviced by robot-mechanics,” Carbon CEO and co-founder Dr. Joseph M. DeSimone said. The M2 also offers expansion ports for new additions and components.
The second part of the SpeedCell system is the Smart Part Washer. According to Carbon 3D, it automates repeatable part washing. After the treatment, pieces can be serialized, scanned and shipped. Manufacturers can keep a record of when a particular object was made. The washer will make Carbon’s service especially useful for medical products.
The system is scalable, and according to Carbon 3D, the newly designed software “lets you use fleets of internet-connected Carbon 3D machines”.
The introduction of the SpeedCell was in direct response to the needs of Carbon’s customers and strategic partners, including BMW Group and General Electric. Additional SpeedCell launch partners include existing customer BMW Group and production partners Dinsmore, Inc., Primary Manufacturing, Sculpteo, and The Technology House, which are working to implement this new manufacturing solution.
Carbon offers the SpeedCell in the following configurations:
SpeedCell also features multiple Carbon Connectors, which enable hardware extensibility to support additional system capabilities in the future.
Like the M1, the M2 is available only by subscription, a unique business model in the world of 3D printers. While the M1 is set at USD$40K per year, the M2 is priced at USD$50K per year for near double the print volume, plus an ability to work with the SpeedCell modules in the future. The Smart Part Washer costs USD$10,000 per year.
Featuring a wide range of properties for additive manufacturing, Carbon’s materials are uniquely tuned for production. Carbon also collaborates with its customers and partners to develop custom material solutions for some of the world’s most demanding design challenges. Materials include:
Elastomeric Polyurethane (EPU): EPU is Carbon’s elastomeric material family. Its combination of tear strength, energy return, and elongation makes it well-suited for cushioning, impact absorption, vibration isolation, gaskets, and seals. The EPU family (EPU 40 and EPU 41) is especially well-suited for producing elastomeric lattices to create foam-like product experiences.
EPU 40 is Carbon’s original elastomer material and has higher elongation and tear strength, but lower resilience, compared to the next generation EPU 41.
EPU 41 is a production-grade elastomeric material. EPU 41 has higher resilience (energy return) and better retention of elastomeric properties than EPU 40 at temperatures > -10°C. Offered only in 5-L bulk packaging, EPU 41 requires meter, mix, and dispense (MMD) equipment for dispensing the material in bulk quantities.
EPU 41 is offered only in five-liter bulk packaging, and is the second material (after Rigid Polyurethane 70) to be offered under the Carbon production-scale materials pricing of $150 per liter. It requires an MMD (meter, mix, and dispense) device for proper dispensing of the material in bulk quantities.
Silicone (SIL): SIL 30 is a silicone urethane. It is the first additive material to offer a unique combination of biocompatibility, low durometer, and tear-resistance. This material opens up the ability to print customized applications for comfortable skin contact products such as headphones, wristbands, and attachments for wearables.
Rigid Polyurethane (RPU): Rigid Polyurethane is a versatile rigid material family. It is used across a wide range of industries, including consumer products, automotive, and industrial. RPU 70 has a UL 94 HB flame resistance classification. RPU is comparable to ABS.
Flexible Polyurethane (FPU): Offering high impact strength, cycle life, and CLIP’s exceptional surface finish, FPU is a material without equal in the additive industry. It is designed to withstand repetitive stresses, making it ideal for tough enclosures, hinging mechanisms, and friction fits. FPU is comparable to polypropylene.
Epoxy (EPX): EPX 82 is a high-strength engineering material with excellent long-term durability and mechanical properties comparable to lightly glass-filled thermoplastics (e.g. 20% GF-PBT, 15% GF-Nylon). EPX 82 has a heat deflection temperature of 115°C and the functional toughness required for a variety of automotive and industrial applications such as connectors, brackets, and housings.
Cyanate Ester (CE): With a 231°C heat deflection temperature, strength, and stiffness, CE 221 is suited for applications that need long term thermal stability, like under-the-hood components, electronics assemblies, and industrial products. CE is comparable to glass-filled nylon.
Urethane Methacrylate (UMA): The UMA family contains rigid resins similar to conventional SLA resins. They are well suited for producing manufacturing jigs, fixtures, and general purpose prototypes.
Late last year, Carbon announced a new version of its 3D printing software. With this software release, Carbon offers a variety of tools that let customers print parts successfully, optimize supports for material usage, and minimize post-processing. The new software tools are backed by cloud-based finite element analysis (FEA) that simulates DLS forces.
Some of the capabilities in the latest software update include:
“Carbon is often recognized for its innovations in hardware and materials science, but our software is what enables all of these pieces to work together seamlessly,” said Roy Goldman, Director of Software at Carbon. “Carbon’s software creates a digital canvas on which every cubic millimeter of a part can be designed, controlled, and optimized before its printed. We’ve built this software from the ground up, providing our customers with a comprehensive view of the design process that helps ensure a part performs as desired, and enables fast printing and easy post-processing. These new FEA-backed automated support tools are the first of their kind and take our software to a whole new level.”
Since the release of Carbon’s first 3D printer, the M1, in April 2016, the company has been using its software to bring its hardware and materials together into a digital-first manufacturing system. This cloud-connected approach allows Carbon to integrate all of its unit operations and offerings, and the every-six-week release updates continually optimize customers’ hardware to help ensure peak performance and streamline the introduction of new resins.
Additionally, some of the key features of Carbon’s software include:
“Carbon’s core technology is enabling new business models that inherently need new software,” said Dr. DeSimone. “Printing parts on demand, re-purposing a fleet of machines to print a range of parts daily or even hourly, local production for local markets — these are all challenges big manufacturing and ERP companies have talked about for years, but progress has largely been stagnant because the underlying technology hasn’t existed. Carbon is changing the game by solving each of these problems head on, moving beyond prototyping to real-world production at scale.”
Pricing Model & The Future
Carbon built its business around a subscription pricing model that is intended to “future-proof” its customers from the obsolescence of traditional capital equipment purchases. With a Carbon subscription, its machines/systems are paired with service support, compatibility with all of its materials, and continual software updates. It also makes it possible to leverage current products without losing the ability to upgrade as new products are released.
While there are certainly a number of emerging and new technologies in the AM space, Carbon seems especially well-positioned based on its unique technologies and business model.
To learn more, visit www.carbon3d.com.