One of the main things that has made 3D printing such a compelling manufacturing technology is its capability to enhance and accelerate product development cycles. With it, designers and companies can bring new product ideas to life and explore wholly new designs that would have been impossible within the constraints of traditional manufacturing. One company that demonstrates, and even encapsulates, this transformative dynamic is Carbon. The California-based company has worked with many customers and partners across the consumer, automotive and dental industries—among others—leveraging its 3D printing-driven idea-to-production platform to push innovation in product design and manufacturing.
Hardware, materials, and software
Carbon is an undeniable leader in the polymer AM industry, having demonstrated its technology’s capacity for mass manufacturing (i.e., through its partnership with adidas). But that’s not the only area where it excels. The company’s idea-to-production platform provides end users with the tools to come up with new product ideas and bring them to life, whether it’s high-performance bike saddles, custom-fit dental aligners, or high-tolerance automotive components.
Central to Carbon’s idea-to-production platform is the company’s patented Carbon Digital Light Synthesis™ (Carbon DLS™) technology process. The 3D printing process uses a combination of digital light projection, oxygen-permeable optics, and UV-curable resin materials to produce high-quality, dense polymeric parts. Today, the company offers five 3D printer models based on its DLS process: the entry-level M1, the workhorse M2, the large-format L1, and the recently launched next generation of M-Series printers, the M3 and M3 Max with next-gen DLS. These systems are complemented by other hardware, such as the Smart Part Washer for high-throughput part finishing, and an ecosystem of solution partners.
The 3D printers are only part of the equation, however. Carbon is also known for its diverse selection of first- and third-party materials, which are vital to unlocking all kinds of new applications. In its engineering portfolio, the company offers dozens of resin options, including EPX 82, a high-strength material with properties comparable to 20% glass-filled PBT; EPU 41, a flexible, tear-resistant material comparable to commercial TPUs; and MPU 100, a biocompatible material with good chemical resistance. It also offers a dedicated dental portfolio comprising over a dozen resin materials, tailored to applications like dentures, dental models, splints, trays, crowns, and bridges.
Software is also critical, providing the means for engineers and product designers to take their ideas from concept to finished product. Just a few months ago, Carbon launched the latest version of Design Engine,™ a software solution that generates complex lattice geometries. The platform, now available to any designer (not only Carbon printer subscribers), facilitates the design and creation of 3D printed products optimized for comfort, weight, or performance. For instance, Specialized Bicycles utilized Carbon Design Engine to reimagine the traditional bike saddle to improve rider sit-bone support and comfort. Specialized was able to infinitely tune the material’s density in a way impossible with foam, resulting in a seat that is more comfortable and offers more support than traditional foam seats, thanks to its multi-zone lattice geometries and programmable resins.
Not just a customer, a partner
While hardware, materials and software are a necessary combination for any successful additive manufacturing solution, Carbon’s idea-to-production platform is set apart by the company’s subscription model. That is, rather than simply purchase its 3D printing hardware, Carbon customers become subscribers to the company’s technology platform. This means that they can benefit from continually updated software which delivers support for new materials, improved efficiency and better part quality, as well as receiving full support services.
Carbon’s subscription-based model is informed by the knowledge that the AM industry is always advancing, meaning that hardware and software solutions that exist today risk becoming obsolete, even in the near future. By giving its customers access to regular software updates, Carbon aims to curb the risk of obsolescence and ensure that its customers are always at the cutting edge.
“Regular software updates mean improved printer functionalities (e.g., print speed, accuracy, texturing, etc.) and always having a state-of-the-art machine,” the company explains. “We periodically introduce new high-performance 3D printing materials after hundreds of hours of internal material validation, and we can provide tested parameters to our customers remotely to work with them, expanding the capabilities of our platform long after initial installation, with high confidence the materials can perform on their first print. And predictive maintenance and real-time customer service mean seamless troubleshooting and more machine uptime. Unlike other technologies, Carbon’s subscription model means our relationship begins at installation and only grows with our customers from there.”
Carbon has a strong vision that is already being realized, in which its technology enables people to achieve new designs and products that would not have been feasible using traditional production workflows and methods. Notably, Carbon’s solution is not only a good fit for product design and development; the scalable nature of DLS technology means that companies can easily transition from product development to full-scale manufacturing when the time comes without changing the manufacturing process or materials.
We have seen many examples of this approach being successfully implemented, from American sporting goods company Rawlings bringing a new and improved baseball glove with 3D printed stabilizers to market, to hockey equipment company CCM improving the impact resistance of hockey helmets with lattice architectures, to blender specialist Vitamix using Carbon’s technology to redesign and deploy a 10x more durable rinsing nozzle for commercial applications.
Beyond clearing new paths for improved product design, Carbon’s idea-to-production platform also unlocks efficiency gains. For example, the 10x more durable Vitamix nozzle is also 30% more economical than the preceding design. In the dental segment, Protec Dental Laboratories, a Canadian digital dental technology company, revolutionized the production of orthodontic night guards by using Carbon’s M2 platform. By 3D printing the devices directly, the company has experienced a 50% increase in daily production as well as a 66% decrease in manual labor (as well as associated costs). That is on top of the fact that the 3D printed night guards are also more accurate and less bulky than their analog counterparts.
The list of Carbon case studies goes on: the company really has positioned itself strategically as a viable solutions provider for polymeric part production. We can also look to the automotive sector, where Lamborghini has been using Carbon’s technology since 2018 to produce end-use fuel caps and air duct clips for the Urus Super SUV. The Italian sports car manufacturer is also exploring the use of Carbon’s 3D printing to optimize the production of other vehicle parts.
Overall, the goal of Carbon’s idea-to-production platform is to become the engine that powers breakthrough outcomes. As the company says: “Carbon empowers you to explore and realize your best ideas quickly. We are leading the way to a more open, connected, and sustainable world of manufacturing that will improve all our lives.”
This article was published in collaboration with Carbon.