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Thinking About 3D Printing: Insights from Carbon3D, HP and Voxel8

by Pete Basiliere  |  January 13, 2016  |  Submit a Comment

3D print tech providers talked industrial 3DP at CES, not just consumer uses. What were they saying?

The TCT conference on 3D printing (3DP) took up nearly a full day of this year’s Consumer Electronics Show (CES). I couldn’t spend the entire time in the conference but I did listen to what several influential speakers had to say:

Jennifer Lewis, Professor, Harvard University and Founder, Voxel8

Ms. Lewis’ presentation was fast-paced and full of information. I can unequivocally state that if you watch only one of the TCT Conference’s videos when they become available, watch Ms. Lewis. Your time will be well spent.

A 2015 Gartner Cool Vendor, Voxel8’s mission is “We solve the limited functionality of 3D printing by creating advanced materials that help our industrial partners manufacture high performance products.” Early adopters come from the aerospace, automotive, robotics and wearables industries.

The company’s 3D printer (which does not have a model name) has the ability to extrude two materials, which in and of itself would not be too impressive if we were talking about two of the same colored plastics. What makes Voxel8’s 3DP particularly noteworthy is its ability to print flexible conductive inks. Its multimaterials printheads come in a variety of features: tapered nozzles, core-shell nozzles, mixing and switching nozzles, and multinozzle arrays.

Voxel8 is not only bringing its popular printers to market (the current backlog is about two months) but is considering enabling the basic architecture to be integrated with assembly lines.

Voxel8 3D Printer

Voxel8 - new generation 3D printer

Photo source: Pete Basiliere

Ms. Lewis was named one of Fast Company magazine’s Most Creative People for 2015. Voxel8 says that it raised in a $12 million Series A round last summer with investors including Autodesk’s Spark Investment Fund and In-Q-Tel, the venture firm backed by the CIA. I will not be surprised if Voxel8’s range of inks and their capabilities will continue to expand given the ink development work that Ms. Lewis’ laboratory at Harvard is doing.

Scott Schiller, VP, Global Head of Customer and Market Development, HP Inc.

As HPI makes preparations to release its 3DP this fall, the company is positioning its entry as helping to drive the transformation of 3D printing, just as it did with 2D digital printing and printing presses. Mr. Schiller noted HPI views their efforts as offering a transformational technology, one that supports digitization of the enterprise.

Fully a third of the presentation was about HPI’s high speed, page wide, 2D inkjet technology. While I have many years of experience with digital printing, I began to wonder where this was going. Mr. Schiller pivoted nicely to the point — The work that HPI has done to enable its digital presses, which can cost millions and print different copy on every page at upward of 1,000 feet per minute, is directly applicable to its 3D printing technology. From processing the incredible amounts of data needed to operate an inkjet web press at full speed to the inkjet arrays that enable variable full color images, HPI’s expertise in 2D printing has laid the technological foundation to support its 3D printers.

HPI’s thermal inkjet 3DP will apply ink to layers of powder, with the ink defining the melting and non-melting areas. This thermo-mechanical process enables multiple chemical agents to be applied. The precision of HPI’s inkjet heads will enable the printer to manipulate the properties of each 3D printed layer at the voxel level.

Schematic of HP multi-agent printing process (cross-section views)

HP Multi-agent Printing Process from website on 011316

Graphic source: HPI

Outside of the session, I had the opportunity to examine a recent example of HPI’s 3D printer output. Black, smooth, strong and flexible, the piece resembled a resistance device used to strengthen your hand’s grip, only much smaller. The ends were solid while the middle, curled section was flexible and able to bend and then return to its original shape.

Importantly, HPI is ramping up an open development platform: www.hp.com/go/3Dprinting, while supporting the 3MF Consortium and integration with Autodesk’s Spark platform.

HP Inc.’s entry into the 3DP market this fall will create another round of hype about the technology and its potential. Beware of the gushing writings of the media and pundits. Focus instead on the holistic potential of HPI’s device — from the incredible amounts of data that must be processed to create innovative designs to the actual performance of its 3D printed output.

Joe Desimone — Carbon3D

Two companies are expected to make a big splash in the 3DP pond this year: HPI and Carbon3D. Buyers and analysts alike are looking forward to the reality of the 3D printers these companies have announced.

Carbon3D’s Joe Desimone co-founded Carbon3D in 2013. Currently on leave from distinguished professorships at University of North Carolina and North Carolina State University, Joe has published over 300 scientific articles and has over 150 issued patents in his name-with over 80 patents pending. Given his expertise, it may be no surprise that Mr. Desimone characterized Carbon3D as enabling “a future fabricated with light.”

The company’s Continuous Liquid Interface Production (CLIP) process is fundamentally a variation on stereolithography (SLA) printer technology that uses digital light processing (DLP) imaging, coupled with a proprietary chemical process to solidify liquid resin layer-by-layer with a speed that Carbon3D says is up to 100 times that of its competition.

Carbon3D Printer

Carbon3D printer_preview from website 011316

Photo source: Carbon3d

Interestingly, since Carbon3D went public at the annual TED conference last fall, the company has developed 11 resins for its current beta customers. These resins (and example of printed parts) include high impact strength rigid polyurethane (orthotics, non-engine auto parts), semi-rigid polyurethane (living or bendable hinges and clips), cyanate ester (tools for injection molding) and polyurethane elastomer (grips, gaskets and flexible ear tips).

Carbon3D’s printer will have a subscription model (as does another 2015 Gartner Cool Vendor, Old World Labs) with remote service and support. Printer software updates and printer optimization features will be pushed to the device. One computer will be able to control a fleet of Carbon3D printers, as well as to receive real-time feedback from the device.

On the one hand, Carbon3D is not alone. Other SLA providers in its market include 3D Systems and Formlabs (both based in the U.S.), Shaanxi Hengtong (China), Prodways (France), EnvisionTEC (Germany), DWS (Italy) and CMET (Japan). CES exhibitors with SLA printers included Old World Labs (US), Photocentric (UK), Shining3D (China), Uniz (US) and XYZprinting (Taiwan).

On the other hand, the $141 million invested so far in Carbon3D — a firm that has yet to bring a printer to market — is a clear sign that its backers see great potential in the CLIP printing process. And which is why buyers and analysts are eagerly awaiting the opportunity to see just how well the first Carbon3D printers perform.

 

For my observations about the 3D printers at CES 2016, please read my post 3D Printing at CES: Hardware and Innovation.

Category: 3d-printing  trends-predictions  

Tags: ces2016  3-d-print  3d-print  3d-printer  3d-systems  3mf-consortium  additive-manufacturing  autodesk  binder-jetting  cad  carbon3d  ces  cmet  consumer-electronics-show  digital-press  digital-printer  digital-printing  dws  envisiontec  formlabs  hp  hpi  inkjet  jennifer-lewis  joe-desimone  material-science  multi-jet-fusion  old-world-labs  page-wide-array  photocentric  prodways  rd  scott-schiller  shaanxi-hengtong  shining3d  stereolithography  uniz  voxel8  xyzprinting  

Pete Basiliere
Research Vice President
12 years at Gartner
18 years IT Industry

Mr. Basiliere provides research-based insights on 3D printing and digital printing hardware, software and materials. Mr. Basiliere's Maverick research coined the term Generation AI, people born after 2010 who will not know a world without application intelligence in their lives. Read Full Bio




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