Jun 24, 2015 | By Alec

It looks like up-and-coming 3D printing startup Carbon3D is in for a wild and successful ride. Only yesterday, we reported on their promising rise in Hollywood – where their new CLIP 3D printing technology was to develop props for the upcoming Terminator movie – and today, it’s the car industry. For Ford and Carbon3D have just announced that this giant of the automobile industry will begin using CLIP as a prototyping tool.

To explain, Carbon3D is a very young startup from Redwood City, California, who has created a lot of buzz with CLIP, what they call a breakthrough technology. Carbon 3D really only reached headlines recently because of lecture at TED 2015, given by the company’s founder and CEO Joseph DeSimone. Their custom made 3D printing technology CLIP stands for Continuous Liquid Interface Production, and somewhat resembles SLA printing. In a nutshell, CLIP harnesses UV light and oxygen to continuously grow polymers. ‘UV light triggers photopolymerization and oxygen inhibits it. By carefully balancing the interaction of light and oxygen, CLIP continuously grows objects from a pool of resin. CLIP moves beyond the limitations of 3D printing to offer unprecedented speed, quality, and choice,’ its developers write on their website.

The result is a type of UV printing that is insanely quick; from 25 up to 100 times faster than common 3D printing technologies. The printing results of this tunable photochemical process are also excellent. Surfaces are super smooth – reportedly comparable to injection-molded objects – while structural integrity is excellent. It’s no wonder that Ford, following special effects company Legacy Effects, is so interested.

Ford made their interest apparent in a statement earlier this week, in which Raj Nair, the Group Vice President of Global Product Development and Chief Technology Officer at Ford, revealed that they have been testing with CLIP since December 2014. ‘Carbon3D’s CLIP technology has allowed us to realize our need for high-speed, high-quality printing of actual automotive-grade parts,’ he said. ‘We are excited to further our relationship and look forward to innovating together to make 3D manufacturing a reality.’

Of course, Ford had already been using conventional 3D printing technologies for more than twenty years, but they recently launched a new research program to reexamine 3D printing techniques. And CLIP did very well in that program, having already been successfully applied to current and future designs. Carbon, understandably, was also very optimistic. ‘Working with Ford offers a great opportunity to further prove our technology’s ability to produce the wide range of material and mechanical properties that are needed across the automotive industry to truly achieve 3D manufacturing,’ said Joseph DeSimone, CEO and Co-founder of Carbon3D.

So what are they actually using it for? Ford revealed that they have used CLIP to produce elastomer grommets (which protect parts in the space of the doors) for the Focus Electric, and compared the results with conventional 3D printed objects. Unsurprisingly, CLIP won in every category from speed to desired properties. More recently, Ford also used CLIP 3D printing for an issue in a new V8 engine design. The vehicle’s design problematically featured an unreachable oil filler cap, so CLIP was used to rapidly design and prototype an oil connector from rigid polyurethane and elastomer materials. Damping bumper parts for the Transit Connect were also made with CLIP 3D printing.

The future of CLIP in the automobile industry is thus starting to look very bright indeed. ‘We’re thrilled. The parts we’ve produced are mechanically strong, just like injection molded parts. That’s the target we’ve set for an automotive grade part,’ said Ellen Lee, Team Leader, Additive Manufacturing Research at Ford. ‘The chemistry that Carbon3D has based their resins on has significant potential to yield functional, durable materials. We’re excited to be able to tap into their technology to create new automotive relevant materials and applications for digital manufacturing. It’s revolutionary. If we can shave months off of production time and get a new model onto the market earlier, we can save millions.’

These results are somewhat unsurprising, as 3D printing has been a cheap, if very slow tool that has caused both marvel and frustration in car workshops. Other typical problems include that parts are not isotropic, not durable enough for actual use, and don’t do well in extreme temperatures. With CLIP shaving hours off and adding much needed mechanical properties, this could signal a new industrial 3D printing revolution. ‘Carbon3D’s CLIP technology is allowing our engineers to shorten their design iteration time and reach a final-part more quickly, which is exciting because it means higher quality and more cost effective products for our customers,’ Lee concluded. CLIP is definitely going places.



Posted in 3D Printing Applications



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