DETROIT (May 26, 2016) — A 3-D printing startup in Redwood City, Calif., is making inroads on the automotive market.
Counting Ford Motor Co., BMW A.G. and Delphi Automotive among its early partners, Carbon3D Inc. recently released its first commercial printer.
The device, based on a printing technique called continuous liquid interface production, or CLIP, is designed to address performance gaps left by other 3-D printing methods.
CLIP uses a pool of UV-curable resin, into which a sequence of UV images is projected. A build platform continuously rises as the part solidifies from underneath. The light is projected through an oxygen-permeable window to maintain a thin layer of uncured resin (oxygen inhibits the polymerization reaction) and keep the part from sticking to the tray.
Carbon3D said parts produced with CLIP perform similarly to injection molded parts, and are isotropic — meaning the mechanical properties are the same no matter in which system the part is printed. The process takes a fraction of the time of traditional machines and, according to the company, the technology overcomes structural and finish flaws seen with other methods.
“What we saw is there's a tradeoff,” said Sasha Seletsky, Carbon3D's strategic development manager. “With the light-based technologies you get great surface finish and resolution, and then with the heat-based technologies you get good mechanical properties, but you can't have both. There's no technology that gives you both great surface finish and great mechanical properties. And so we saw that as one of the key reasons why 3-D printing hasn't really found production applications in automotive, and in other industries. Because engineers can't accept that tradeoff between surface quality and resolution and mechanical properties; they need both.”
Carbon3D is currently working with auto makers and tier suppliers to validate its materials, which were developed in-house and tuned to closely match the performance of commonly used thermoplastics.
“We thought that the easiest way for engineers to understand our materials and to brainstorm applications is for our materials to sound similar to materials that they're familiar with,” Mr. Seletsky said.