If you don’t have a flashback to Terminator 2: Judgement Day when you see a demonstration of Continuous Liquid Interface Production, or “CLIP”, you haven’t seen the movie. That classic scene of the T1000 robot assassin rising from a silver puddle of liquid metal is what inspired the start-up company Carbon3D to raise the bar in the 3D printing industry to a Steve Jobs-like level of innovation.
Carbon3D CEO Joseph DeSimone and his team of engineers, chemists and scientists have designed a revolutionary new version of an additive manufacturing process that most of us know as 3D printing
The Carbon3D website shows a video of the 3D printing of a complex object made out of a resin. The object looks like it belongs in a bag of whiffle golf balls, but this kind of golf-sized ball is too complex to be fabricated by traditional manufacturing techniques
CLIP works by harnessing the offsetting forces of light and oxygen to cure liquid materials. This balance provides the equipment the ability to grow objects from a pool of photosensitive resin. Central to the CLIP process is the transparent and permeable window (like that of a contact lens) that allows light and oxygen to get through but not clash with one another.
Essentially, CLIP is a process that solves the three main problems with the parts produced with current 3D printing technology: speed, strength and consistency.
When you need a nap, watch a 3D printing process. It’s painfully slow. The printer is applying layer upon layer of a thin material to grow a solid structure out of a liquid. Building the object requires a series of methodical steps to cure the material once it’s applied, and then replenish and reposition the printing heads to construct each additional layer.
Instead of printing them in layers, CLIP appears to grow parts by pulling an object out of a puddle. It’s actually using a chemical process to balance light and oxygen through an oxygen-permeable window and into a bath of UV-curable resin. A platform lifts continuously as the object is printed. The result is a manufacturing process 25 to 100 times faster than older 3D production techniques. Parts are produced in minutes instead of hours.
Today’s additive manufacturing processes produce structurally weak objects. The process of layering materials introduces variability into the finished product based on factors like the direction the parts were printed and consistency in the speed of the printer heads. Current equipment designs are also limited in the types of resins they can use.
Parts printed with CLIP are like injection-molded parts: smooth and solid with a high strength-to-weight ratio. CLIP is designed to utilize many of the same types of materials used in production-quality parts. This includes polymers like the ones that give athletic shoes their elasticity and those that provide the strength needed for mechanical parts.
The California-based company was founded in 2013. The company’s leaders include a chemist, an electrical engineer and a computer scientist. With this mix of perspectives, Carbon3D has arrived at what DeSimone calls “the Intersection of Hardware, Software and Molecular Science.” No wonder some of us are already having visions of the T1000.