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The T-1000 Of 3-D Printers Is Here

Carbon3D shoots oxygen and beams of light through a pool of resin to 3-D print up to 100x faster than a Makerbot.

Like a T-1000 Terminator rising out of a pool of blood-red liquid metal, Carbon3D is a radical new printing technology that can actually pull a model out of a bed of resin, up to 100 times faster than traditional 3-D printers. The technology could take 3-D printing mainstream while streamlining the design process for untold numbers of designers.

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Here’s how Carbon3D works. Traditional 3-D printing is really just 2-D printing in disguise. 3-D printers melt down filament, and then dollop it out a drop at a time in a bed, where the filament re-hardens. By doing hundreds or even thousands of passes, a 3-D printer can slowly construct a model over time. But time is the operative word: because of the way standard 3-D printing technology works, it takes a long time to 3-D print even simple shapes.

What makes Carbon3D so revolutionary is that it eliminates layering. Carbon3D calls its technology continuous liquid interface production, or CLIP. Clip works by shooting beams of light and streams of oxygen through a bed of light-curable resin. The light hardens certain areas of the resin, while the oxygen prevents other areas from curing. By carefully controlling the oxygen that is allowed into the resin pool, the Carbon3D printer can print objects anywhere between 25 to 100 times faster than traditional 3-D printers, the makers claim.

That speed increase could be a significant step forward for 3-D printers. The allure of 3-D printing has always been that maybe, just maybe, it’ll one day be fast and cheap enough to be the 21st-century’s equivalent of the Star Trek replicators. 3-D printers have gotten cheaper, but they’re still slow. A 100-fold speed increase over current technology is maybe enough to take 3-D printing into the mainstream. And for designers, faster 3-D printers mean faster prototypes, a quicker production pipeline, and the potential for more sales.

The big question, though, is price. Carbon3D isn’t a real product yet, so no one knows what the price-to-performance ratio will be. The technology is promising, but whether it becomes a consumer-facing product is another story entirely. Some big names in venture capital think Carbon3D is going to make it big: Sequoia Capital and Silver Lake Kraftwerk have helped Carbon3D raise $41 million in funding.

Although Carbon3D has been developing its new technology for the past two years, the company only came out of stealth mode this week, simultaneously presenting its approach to 3-D printing at a TED talk and through a paper in Science.

Read more about the science behind Carbon3D here.

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