Using light and oxygen to shape objects, a California 3D printing start-up hopes to revolutionize everything from how car parts to medical devices are made. Ben Gruber reports.
STORY: You might not recognize it - but this is what 3D printing now looks like - incredibly sophisticated shapes seemingly growing out of a pool of goo. This is a demonstration of California start-up Carbon's CLIP printer. (SOUNDBITE) (English) KIRK PHELPS, VICE PRESIDENT OF PRODUCT MANAGEMENT, CARBON, SAYING: "One of the interesting side benefits of controlling both light and oxygen together is instead of going step by step by step and printing really slowly, these parts emerge of from liquid almost as if they are alive." The liquid is a polymer resin, a type of plastic, which Carbon has different varieties of - depending on what they need to print. Heat resistant hard resins for exterior automotive parts and soft elastic biodegradable resins for medical devices like heart stents. The machine works by utilizing specialized software that carefully controls a photochemical process, balancing the way ultraviolet light and oxygen react within the pool of resin. The light hardens the resin, while oxygen keeps it in a liquid form. More oxygen is present at the bottom of the pool, allowing the object to take shape and harden as it rises. In the past three years the company has secured more than $240 million dollars in funding from top venture capital firms like Google Ventures and partnered with companies like Ford, BMW and Johnson and Johnson to move the technology forward. Carbon says what sets it apart from other 3D printing companies is speed - printing up to 100 times faster than their rivals. (SOUNDBITE) (English) KIRK PHELPS, VICE PRESIDENT OF PRODUCT MANAGEMENT, CARBON, SAYING: "So you can imagine that if we give them a great on demand manufacturing tool it's not just the product that changes, it's the business that changes." Until now 3D printing has been used primarily as a prototyping tool in the manufacturing industry. But if Carbon can prove its technology produces durable products, it could change the way things are made - offering an alternative to the industry standard of injection molding and heralding in a new era for 3D printed products.