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OM in the News: Exciting New Changes in 3-D Printing

November 24, 2015

carbon 3DThe promise of 3-D printing is the ability to produce a solid part on the spot based on any digital 3-D file. While some of the highest end machines can precisely print small batch items such as hearing aids and artificial joints, the vast majority of 3-D printers in use today are slow and capable of making only trinkets and small prototypes. The early hype around 3-D printing peaked a couple of years ago, and now shares of the two big publicly traded printer manufacturers, Stratasys and 3D Systems, are 80% off their highs. But Carbon3D, a California startup, is reinjecting excitement into the field with a new way to print objects in 3-D quickly and precisely, writes Forbes (Nov.23, 2015).

Most 3-D printers use a technique known as fused deposition modeling, which is basically a hot-glue gun controlled by a robot arm that zig-zags back and forth depositing layers of plastic to make a solid object. A Carbon3D machine pulls a solid object from a small tub of liquid plastic–akin to the way the killer robot in Terminator 2 lifted itself out of liquid-metal puddles. It’s a variation on a decades-old technique called stereolithography, or the use of light to solidify liquid plastic. Carbon3D can produce objects of higher resolutions at speeds 25 to 100 times faster than traditional stereolithographic printers. Because the action of the machine is so smooth, it allows manufacturers access to a wider variety of performance materials such as stretchy elastomers and high-temperature-resistant resin.

A dozen companies, including Ford Motor and Hollywood studio Legacy Effects, are testing Carbon3D machines, each of which will cost about $10,000. Legacy, which worked on the Iron Man and Avengers movies, uses it to print prosthetics and props. The studio cut the time it took to print one crucial job from 16 hours to 2 hours.

Classroom discussion questions:

  1. Why did 3-D printing peak a few years ago?
  2. How does Carbon3D’s product change printing?
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