Wanna see something cool?
This is a video of a new 3D printing technology called CLIP (Continuous Liquid Interface Projection), the brainchild of a new company called Carbon3D. The company has been making a splash over the last few days, coming out of stealth mode by simultaneously releasing both a TED talk and a major paper published in Science. Why all the fuss? Well, if you pay attention, you may notice a couple of remarkable things about the video.
First off, check the resolution. The model of the Eiffel Tower being printed has a lot of fine detail. In fact, according to their paper published in Science, the printing technology currently has a resolution of under 100 micrometers (less than the thickness of a human hair). This is competitive with the best 3D printers currently available.
Now, check out the speed. The video is sped up, but the timer in the corner says the print takes less than seven minutes, which is much, much faster than other 3D printing technologies. The company claims that CLIP printing is about 28 times faster than the next fastest technology, and more than a hundred times faster than most 3D printers available to consumers.
This performance is incredible. The creators say the technology was inspired by the T-1000 forming out of liquid in the film Terminator 2, but that doesn’t explain how the result was achieved. For that, we need to dive into the technology a little.
Solving the Problem with 3D Printing
To really understand what’s happening here, it’s helpful to know how conventional 3D printing works. Basically, it works by using a small “write” head, which either deposits small droplets of molten material, or welds together particles of a fine powder. This head moves back and forth across the surface of the object, depositing the material where it’s needed. The object is built slowly — row by row, layer by layer. This works, but it can take hours or days and the layering process leads to ugly banding artifacts, which limit the strength of the part. While 3D printers have many neat applications, these factors limit how far they can go.
In his TED talk, DeSimone (one of the developers of the technology), talks about this limitation, and the importance of overcoming it.
“That was our challenge. Our approach would be if we could do this, we could fundamentally address the three issues holding back 3D printing from being a manufacturing process.
One, 3D printing takes forever. There are mushrooms that grow faster than 3D printed parts.
Two, the layer by layer process leads to defects in mechanical properties. If we could grow continuously, we could eliminate those defects. In fact, if we could go really fast, we could start using materials that are self curing, and we could have amazing properties. So if we could pull this off, imitate Hollywood, we could, in fact, address 3D manufacturing.”
CLIP Technology — The Game Changer
The CLIP technique, which DeSimone demonstrated on stage, is ingenious. The objects are built inside a reservoir of a resin material which is cured by UV. The object being built is anchored to a platform which is slowly raised out of the resin. Beneath the platform, an intense UV projector is positioned behind an oxygen-permeable membrane (made of the same material as a contact lens). The object is constructed as light from the projector hardens the layers of resin as the platform rises upwards.
The projector can draw entire layers at once (hence the speed). These layers can be thin and slender, which allows for the creation of smooth structures. The printed objects can also be much stronger and made of much more diverse materials than traditionally 3D printed parts.
The current printers are prototypes, but the creators believe that by increasing the resolution of their projectors and tweaking the process of curing the resin, they can make the process much faster (down to a matter of seconds), and the resolution much finer, below the limits of human perception. This would allow their printers to offer both the speed and detail of traditional injection molding, and the flexibility of 3D printing.
The Promise of 3D Mass Manufacturing
The idea of 3D printers that rival injection molding for speed and accuracy is extremely exciting and with implications in many fields. Engineers working with plastic could 3D print prototypes that are identical to the production versions in material and quality. A manufacturing plant equipped with CLIP printers would enjoy totally unprecedented flexibility. Suddenly, factory retools that traditionally take weeks could be replaced by a simple software update that takes a few seconds. With this technology, it’s possible to create a new digital engineering process, all the way from design to mass production.
CLIP may be the breakthrough that shifts 3D printing from rapid prototyping to mass-manufacturing. When that happens, some of the technology’s promise will be realized.
If you’re excited about 3D printing technology, Carbon3D is a company that you would want to follow. If they succeed, they stand to revolutionize manufacturing in some extremely exciting ways.
What do you think? Let’s talk about the latest developments in 3D printing technology.
Image Credits: Carbon3D