Before Carbon‘s CEO and Co-founder Dr. Joseph DeSimone introduced his disruptive vision, photopolymerizable (light cured) materials were not considered suitable for durable, end-use parts. Thus, there was no real reason to accelerate the speed of 3D printing processes. Carbon changed all this by finding a new way to print urethane-based and epoxy-based dual-cure materials at high speeds. This meant that 3D printing could challenge injection molding for an unprecedented number of applications. Helping companies identify these applications – while maintaining a central focus on customer success – is a job for Paul DiLaura: Carbon’s VP of Sales comes from 10 years at Dassault Systèmes, to take the company into a new dimension, one where hundreds and thousands of SpeedCells produce millions of digital parts for automotive, aerospace, medical and dental, and consumer product segments.
If 3D printing continues to evolve at “Moore’s Law-like rates”, much of the credit goes to the introduction of “planar” processes such as Carbon’s proprietary Digital Light Synthesis™ technology. This approach produces parts continuously, without layers and at speeds that are up to 100 times faster than traditional stereolithographic approaches. Carbon’s SpeedCell is a system of connected manufacturing unit operations that enable repeatable production of end-use parts. The M Series printers and the automated Smart Part Washer are part of modular offerings that allow a wide range of industries to design, engineer, make and deliver end-user parts with one common manufacturing workflow.
Carbon’s approach is truly disrupting manufacturing in very tangible ways. Scale economies are now coming into play, with real production at adidas and Ford Motor Company. We exclusively spoke with Paul DiLaura about the reasons for Carbon’s success and the company’s expansion plans.
3dpbm: How are you present today and how do you expect to expand on the European market?
Paul DiLaura: “Although we have participated in several editions of the TCT show in Birmingham, this year, for the first time, we attended Formnext. I must say that we were quite impressed by both the quality of the exhibition and the knowledge of the participants. People came to us with great questions that showed how familiar the European public is with additive manufacturing and how much potential there is. As a company, we are already actively engaged in Europe with a direct presence in both the UK and Germany. Because we have a direct sale system without intermediaries, we provide customer service to our users, covering all major European markets from these two locations. We are now in the process of building larger teams and further expanding our presence.”
3dpbm: Can you explain exactly how the subscription business model works? What do prospective clients need to do once they decide to install a Carbon system? And what can they expect?
PDL: “We don’t have resellers. That may change in the future, depending on the specifics of certain markets we may decide to enter, but for now, we implement a direct sale model. Customers in all supported markets can contact us directly. They subscribe for periods of three years. This was the initial contract, however, many clients are now requesting longer terms so we’ve extended to five or seven years. The system comes with full support for maintenance and training included, as well as regular software updates to continuously optimize and improve the system’s performance. Clients also get access to all of our newest materials. We envision our relationship with our clients as a true partnership and a subscription-based business model is much better suited for this. We work together on finding and defining new applications for digital additive part production, and we feel that direct engagement with our customers is a key aspect of our business.
3dpbm: How do you decide which geographic markets to enter? Which markets are you present in today?
PDL: “Before entering a specific national market we look at various elements, including industrial development and specific adoption rates for additive manufacturing. Today, Carbon systems are present and we are established in North America (U.S. and Canada), as well as most European countries and Japan. In Japan, in particular, we are present through JSR Corporation, which is also one of the companies that participated in Carbon’s $200 million funding round in late 2017. The company produces materials, ranging from synthetic rubbers for tires to semiconductor, display and life sciences business materials, and they have been building bridges for Carbon to enter the Japanese market.”
3dpbm: How is Carbon transitioning from being a very well-funded startup to an established player in the global AM industry?
PDL: “This year, Carbon launched the largest digital fabrication example in history with the adidas Futurecraft 4D franchise. More than 100,000 pairs of 4D running shoes were fabricated and we are on track to manufacture into the millions in 2019. The competitiveness of our technology for manufacturing is also driving rapid adoption: we’ve doubled our network of global production partners, which now spans across four continents, fueled by continued pushes into dental, automotive and healthcare. And we’re also seeing customers rethink how they design their products and parts, which opens up a whole new world of design freedom. Our work with Vitamix and The Technology House demonstrates this, as we reimagined part design and production to develop an innovative micro-fluidic nozzle at mass scale that is 10 times more durable, uses 30 percent less material, and is 33 percent more economical, all while reducing the number of parts that needed to be produced from six to one. This is a truly remarkable time for Carbon and for the industry.
3dpbm: Can you give an idea of what your timeline is to go from an investment-driven company to a profitable company?
PDL: “As a privately held company, we do not release specific revenue and profitability information, but what I can say is that we are already seeing the impact of Carbon’s high productivity on the industry and it reflects in the growth of our business. Just last month, at Formnext, we announced a major drop in the price of materials for production scale applications. EPX 82 (epoxy), EPU 41 (elastomeric polyurethane), and RPU 70 (rigid polyurethane) are now offered in bulk volumes at $50 per liter. This is possible because volume production has been increasing dramatically. Resin sales are growing and thus we were able to establish excellent supplier relationships, with scale economics making it possible to produce materials at lower costs. This also will increase the total addressable market for large-scale digitally manufactured parts across industries and continue to drive down costs and spur growth for the implementation of Carbon’s digital manufacturing solution globally. The price reduction is truly dramatic, as one liter of these resins cost $150 a year ago and up to $300-400 before that.”
3dpbm: Why do you think that Carbon was more effective than other companies – that also have access to similar high-speed technologies – in making the transition from prototyping to full-scale production?
PDL: “For one thing our printing process itself is differentiating. As you probably know, Digital Light Synthesis™ technology allows us to produce parts that are layer-less, which results in much better isotropic properties and part durability, as well as optimal surface finish. These are all features that helped users see the potential of AM as a production technology. However, the key innovation is in our materials. We have introduced a different class of materials with a lot of technological advances within them. These are “dual cure materials”. We started with strong reactive materials such as urethane and epoxies, which are tougher and more durable than pure photopolymers. We took those materials and carefully added a component that is curable by light. This enables us to shape the part with light in order to get the precision that is possible only with stereolithographic processes while, at the same time, we retain the strength and durability that is possible with reactive chemistry. Then, of course, we developed software capabilities to produce highly complex textures and lattices. Our materials can behave a lot like filled or unfilled thermoplastics.”
3dpbm: In that regard, have you ever considered actually adding an additional reinforcement and thus use composites in your AM process for even stronger material and part properties?
PDL: “That is quite an interesting topic. Our Epoxy 82 behaves very much like a 20% glass filled PBT material. We know that some are researching the possibility of introducing actual fiber reinforcements and we know that it would be possible with enough research and development. Another quite interesting application of Carbon technology and composites came from the University of Wisconsin. Because our epoxy materials-based chemistry is so much like the epoxy used in carbon fiber prepregs, the researchers used it to 3D print parts that were then wrapped in prepregs and placed in an autoclave for bonding. The result was that the parts were perfectly composited, resulting in a perfect hybrid of 3D printing and composite manufacturing.”
3dpbm: “Would you ever consider offering support for third party materials?
PDL: “As a matter of fact we already do that in certain cases. For example, many of our materials offered for dental applications were developed by third parties and Carbon certifies them for our printing process.
3dpbm: Which companies are more likely to install Carbon systems: end-users, non-specialist 3D printing services or tier 1 and tier 2 suppliers in vertical segments?
PDL: “We see a mix across all of these segments. A lot of end-user companies in industries like automotive or consumer products use our systems internally, both to carry out internal development and for some final part production. At the same time, a very important part of our business is the Carbon Production Network. These are companies that offer 3D printing services in outsourcing using our systems. We now have 38 members and, with the promise of 3D manufacturing now a reality, more production partners are adopting Carbon’s technologies to enable them to better serve their customers. This is especially true for injection molders: while this time-tested process is robust, highly repeatable, and often ideal for high-volume production, it can be slow and costly for smaller and more customized jobs. This is where Carbon’s complete digital fabrication solution becomes an ideal alternative for designing, engineering, making and delivering bespoke products at scale.”
3dpbm: Which vertical production segments do you view as particularly interesting for adopting Carbon’s production capabilities?
PDL: “We are focused on a variety of different markets, ranging from automotive to consumer products to life sciences applications. With the introduction of our new flame-resistant material, we are also now targeting the aerospace and defense segments. In general, our approach is to establish a foundation working in partnership with companies in all these segments to help them define the ideal implementation of a digital production workflow.”
3dpbm: Can you give some key examples of recent production applications?
PDL: “For sure the highest profile application case we have worked on is the adidas Futurecraft midsoles. adidas also just released the new ALPHAEDGE 4D model. Together, we have already produced over 100,000 pairs of 3D printed midsoles and are on target toward the ultimate objective of increasing production to millions. Another application that highlights the benefits of using Carbon technology for production is the recent partnership with Vitamix, where we produced a blender nozzle as a single part instead of a costly six-part sub-assembly. Just last week we also announced an evolution of our partnership with Ford for 3D printing a component for an older vehicle no longer in production. It is an HVAC (Heating, Ventilation and Cooling System) part that is used to open and close vents on the system. By implementing a digital production line, Ford was able to reduce tooling costs by 95%, eliminate inventory costs and reduce lead times by up to 60%. These are the kinds of projects that show how cost-effective 3D printing can be in the right context.”
3dpbm: Coming from a huge and established company such as Dassault Systemes, what is it like for you to work on a company that is still in the very early stages of its existence?
PDL: It is undeniably very different but there are also some similarities. For example, the fact that both companies are focused on bringing digital innovation to the manufacturing process. In a way, Carbon’s additive manufacturing is a natural evolution of the work that Dassault Systemes has done in digitalizing the design process. One of Carbon’s board members is Allan Mulally. He was EVP at Boeing, and President and CEO of Boeing Commercial Airplanes, where he oversaw the 777 project, which was the first aircraft to be designed digitally. He then moved on to Ford, serving as President and Chief Executive Officer through 2014, driving its digital transformation. Mr. Mulally joined the Carbon board in part because he saw the potential bring this digital transformation to production to accelerate solutions for many of our biggest challenges in fields such as transportation and medicine.”
3dpbm: Who do you see as your biggest competitors in this “race” to digitalize production?
PDL: “We are most often compared to injection molding. Our fully digital production may never fully replace injection molding for certain applications, but it can provide a very interesting alternative on several large-batch production applications. It is a huge potential market and one in which Carbon can play a significant and impactful role.”