Terminator-inspired tech could give traditional 3D printing a run for its money

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A finished object, created in less than seven minutes (Photo: Carbon3D)

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A new approach to 3D printing promises to drastically speed up the 3D manufacturing process by "growing" objects out of a pool of resin rather than printing them layer by layer. Carbon3D announced its Continuous Liquid Interface Production technology (CLIP) on stage at the TED conference this week, claiming it can produce commercial-quality objects from a range of polymer-based material at speeds between 25 and 100 times faster than conventional 3D printing.

If you've had a filling or other similar types of dental work done in the past decade or so, your dentist may have filled in voids in your teeth with a resin that is then zapped with a special ultraviolet light gun to cure and quickly harden it. CLIP takes the same basic idea, but using technology that allows the photochemical process that hardens the resin to be more finely tuned. The resin responds to cross-sectional images of a 3D model that are essentially projected onto it. The process relies on the right balance of light, which triggers curing, and oxygen, which inhibits it, allowing for the projected object to literally grow out of the resin pool.

"We were inspired by the scene out of Terminator 2 (with) T-1000," said Carbon3D CEO Joseph DeSimone. "By spatially controlling where the oxygen is and where the light is, we're able to grow these parts directly."

Carbon 3D says this method eliminates the clear stratification of individually-printed layers laid upon each other that's usually obvious in traditional additive-based 3D printing, which can create objects that are inconsistent or weak structurally.

In the minute-long demonstration video below, you can see how an object gradually emerges from the pool of resin as it is exposed to just the right combination of light and oxygen in conjunction with the 3D model cross-sections from below. The sped-up video shows an object that took six minutes to create, as opposed to multiple hours needed to create a similar object with a traditional 3D printer.

Another benefit of the approach, according to Carbon 3D, is CLIP's ability to draw on materials from across the polymer family, including elastomers that are flexible enough to work in shoes and strong enough for use in automotive parts.

DeSimone says Carbon3D will be bringing a product to market using this technology later this year, but has no information on pricing just yet. He says the company has been testing the technology with partners in the automotive and athletic apparel industries, as well as academic research and design labs.

Sources: Carbon3D, Re/code

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