April 28, 2017
Dr. Joseph DeSimone is CEO at Carbon.
Valerie Buckingham is VP of Marketing at Carbon.
Executives at 3-D printing company Carbon explain why additive manufacturing means rethinking how products are engineered.
To date, 3-D printing has found a home in a wide range of companies and industries. But in most cases, those enterprises use the technology to speed up prototyping and experimentation before new designs are put into production. Dr. Joseph DeSimone, CEO of Carbon—a 3-D printing company that uses a unique light-based technology to produce finished products—and VP of Marketing Valerie Buckingham believe that 3-D printing is making important progress toward breaking out of the prototype stage and being used for direct manufacturing.
“There is a lot of pent-up demand and interest by manufacturers to use 3-D printing for production,” says DeSimone. “Whether it is to gain the ability to create complex designs or eliminate warehousing with inventory-on-demand, I think everyone knows the value that 3-D printing can bring. Using 3-D printing for production will be transformative; it speeds up product design, and it speeds up business.”
PwC: How do you persuade manufacturers to seriously consider 3-D printing for mass production?
Dr. Joseph DeSimone: Personally handling a real, finished part is what ultimately changes their minds. They can see that it has the properties that meet their design’s prerequisites—whether it be elasticity, high-tear strength, high-impact strength, thermal stability, surface finish, or isotropic behavior—the same properties they would be able to achieve with traditional injection molding. At that moment, all of the romance and excitement surrounding 3-D printing comes to life.
Valerie Buckingham: When manufacturers realize that modifying a product using 3-D printing costs nothing, they begin to rethink the traditional manufacturing process. For example, consider the total cost of a production run. If an injection-molded part doesn’t work out or needs to be changed, you have to modify the injection mold. That means additional costs and time delays. What if the product needs to be revised three times? Each mold adjustment adds to the cost. And what’s the cost if you choose not to make the change? That happens more often than not in fast-moving organizations.
But what if those changes didn’t cost a thing? What if they simply required moving a button to the left? What if you could make the surface more matte with a simple machine adjustment because your customers say that’s what they prefer? You no longer have to recreate an entire mold to make these modifications. When the cost of modifying a product’s design is free, you start to rethink the design of the product and the choices you have in producing it.
If I were a CEO of a manufacturing company, my priority would be to experiment with 3-D production on a small scale so my company can grow along with the market. That’s what industry leaders are doing. They’re conducting small-scale 3-D production tests. They’re building small labs and manufacturing real parts.
There’s a lot of opportunity in the middle market for high-mix, low-volume 3-D manufacturing. In fact, if you talk to some of our contract manufacturers and ask them what percentage of their SKUs are under 50,000 units annually, it’s often more than half. So there’s a ton of room in the middle.
“Using 3-D printing for production will be transformative; it speeds up product design, and it speeds up business.”
PwC: What gets them most excited about the approach?
Dr. Joseph DeSimone: When you use 3-D printing for production, you maintain a continuous digital thread. Generally, the digital thread gets cut when you enter the physical world. Not with CLIP (Carbon’s 3–D printing method). We start and end in the digital world. A continuous digital thread will be a disintermediation of the fundamental design-to-production process. While the Internet has disintermediated commerce, media, finance, and other industries, manufacturing has not been impacted so far.
Valerie Buckingham: Indeed, we started to recognize that leading customers are looking for solutions to get them closer to additive production. That was an insight for us. And then the other big insight—especially with our development partners—was that customers are discovering ways to do low-volume production with additive manufacturing, especially when it’s high mix [variety] and low volume.
The biggest reason for production is that prototyping as we know it will go away. Additive production will take away the need for prototyping. When you design a product on the same means used for production, there is no prototype. There is just an iteration with no cost to change it – and that is a big thing. The leaders in the manufacturing space are figuring this out. They are iterating on the means of production. They are making moves to design products where the digital loop is not cut.
PwC: What differentiates Carbon in the 3-D printing marketplace?
Dr. Joseph DeSimone: We use light as a chisel to create patterns on the surface of a product. Whether you want it smooth or rough, we create that surface right out of the printer. Using light to shape the product is what differentiates us from everybody else. We are not just setting down layers of powder. Our material has the full density of injection-molded parts and can withstand high temperatures. We are developing a flame-retardant material as well.
To make our method of 3-D printing effective, we use a resin that is cured with UV light. It is a reactive resin, much like two-component epoxy found in home improvement stores, which sets chemically and cures through light. We offer a wide variety of resins with different physical properties. Users simply load the printer with the right resin for the job.
Valerie Buckingham: Our recently announced partnership with adidas–in which adidas will produce 5,000 pairs of shoes built with Carbon technology by the end of the year, and another 100,000 pairs in 2018–demonstrates our prevalence in the marketplace.
The first 5,000 pairs of the shoes–called Futurecraft 4D–will incorporate Carbon’s 3-D printed midsole, which features a durable latticed structure that is both strong and lightweight. The structure allows for customization by altering its depth, width, and density. The first 5,000 pairs offered in the marketplace will be designed based on running data captured from numerous high-performing professional athletes.
Our unique production method will be able to produce these shoes incredibly fast, making them much more economical. Our method can produce monolithic and dense products with no discernable layering, and it offers clients the widest choice of production materials in the 3-D printing market.
Adidas’ plans to produce 100,000 pairs of shoes represents the largest mass-produced 3-D printed athletic product offered on the market to date. It’s proof that this technology is good enough and economical enough to go to production as an alternative to traditional manufacturing. There isn’t another technology out there that can accomplish this.
“The biggest reason for production is that prototyping as we know it will go away. Additive production will take away the need for prototyping. When you design a product on the same means used for production, there is no prototype.”
PwC: What is your business model?
Dr. Joseph DeSimone: Essentially, we rent our printers out to our customers—more akin to cloud-based software products. We push updated software every five or six weeks to those printers to power new resins, new features, and new printing modes. With many people using our printers, we can create a network effect. The more people use the printers, the more feedback we collect, and the better our products become.
Our customers’ printers stream a million data points a day to our servers, and that’s an amazing amount of data. I know every resin that they’re using; I know the build volume of their parts; I know the average cross-section of their parts. But what I don’t know is what they’re actually building: the geometry remains encrypted on their 3-D printers. So there are many ways in which we can support our customers in building what they want to build and give them the intellectual property protection they need in the marketplace.
This business model protects the customers in that we future-proof them. They never have an obsolete piece of equipment. We can also manage certain applications. For example, if you want to use the printer for a medical device application, we can grant you that license, because our standard terms and conditions say these are not for medical use. So we can manage those licenses. In terms of our revenue model, we not only get paid for the subscription and selling the resins, we can get a royalty on products made in our printer.
PwC: What challenges do you foresee in taking 3-D manufacturing to large-scale production?
Dr. Joseph DeSimone: To be successful with 3-D printing for production, a company has to break down the siloes between design and manufacturing. If you have an old-school siloed company, you may not succeed with 3-D printing. In fact, we had to stop working with a major company whose product design and manufacturing teams did not work well together. We ended up being caught in the middle.
Valerie Buckingham: One thing we have gotten used to in manufacturing is that it changes slowly. But as 3-D printing is more widely adopted, we’re going to see a shift in organizational thinking and culture to digitize everything. I think that it is going to accelerate change in manufacturing. There will be challenges associated with this pace of change: learning new skills and new design methods and rethinking the overall design-to-production process.