High-Speed 3-D Printing

A startup’s version of 3-D printing is faster and cheaper (and makes better objects).

Conventional 3-D printing is slow and expensive compared to high-volume manufacturing.

A new additive manufacturing technology is 25 to 100 times faster than conventional 3-D printing, and produces stronger parts at a lower cost.

Eiffel tower model
A five-centimeter-tall model of the Eiffel Tower being produced by a new manufacturing method.

The technology was developed by a startup called Carbon3D, which was founded in 2013. The process is described today in a paper published in the journal Science.

3-D printing produces objects by depositing or solidifying one layer of material at a time, a process that lends itself to making very complex objects, but it’s much slower and more expensive than large-volume manufacturing techniques.

Carbon3D’s technology is fast enough that it could compete with conventional mass manufacturing in many cases, says Joseph DeSimone, cofounder and CEO of Carbon3D.

The new technology has some features in common with 3-D printing, but it makes objects continuously rather than in discrete layers, making it much faster. In a video of the process, it looks as if an object gradually emerges from a thin layer of liquid.

The new process is related to stereolithography, in which lasers trace a pattern on a liquid that is engineered to solidify when exposed to light. Normally, to form each layer, the laser has to be turned off so that more liquid can be spread out. This slows the process, and the “interfaces” between layers create weak points in a finished object.

The founders of Carbon 3D, who are researchers at North Carolina State University and the University of North Carolina, developed a way to make the process continuous and ensure that there are no interfaces between layers. The key is to modify the liquid so that it doesn’t immediately solidify when exposed to light. They achieved this by introducing a thin layer of oxygen that temporarily blocks the reactions that produce a solid.

The process works with a variety of commercial plastics, and the researchers are working on using different liquids during the process, to make parts from blended materials. Carbon3D has raised over $41 million in venture funding to date from firms such as Sequoia Capital.

The latest Insider Conversation is live! Listen to the story behind the story.

Subscribe today
Already a Premium subscriber? Log in.

Uh oh–you've read all of your free articles for this month.

Insider Premium
$179.95/yr US PRICE

Want more award-winning journalism? Subscribe to Insider Premium.
  • Insider Premium {! insider.prices.premium !}*

    {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

    Our award winning magazine, unlimited access to our story archive, special discounts to MIT Technology Review Events, and exclusive content.

    See details+

    What's Included

    Bimonthly home delivery and unlimited 24/7 access to MIT Technology Review’s website.

    The Download. Our daily newsletter of what's important in technology and innovation.

    Access to the Magazine archive. Over 24,000 articles going back to 1899 at your fingertips.

    Special Discounts to select partner offerings

    Discount to MIT Technology Review events

    Ad-free web experience

    First Look. Exclusive early access to stories.

    Insider Conversations. Listen in as our editors talk to innovators from around the world.

/
You've read all of your free articles this month. This is your last free article this month. You've read of free articles this month. or  for unlimited online access.