3D printing will soon be revolutionized by the introduction of Continuous Liquid Interface Production (CLIP) technology. Current methods of 3D printing create physical objects from a digital blueprint by printing two-dimensional cross-sections of the object using a laser to solidify photo-reactive powder, or a printer head to deposit melted polymers, much like a familiar inkjet printer. The object is gradually built up one layer at a time.

While current technology is able to produce prototypes more efficiently than traditional manufacturing methods, 3D printing is constrained by its many limitations. The layering process creates a relatively brittle material that is often inadequate for items with moving parts or other applications that require durability. Additionally, the process is time consuming. Depending on complexity, an object just a few centimeters in diameter can take upwards from a few hours to a full day to print.

Carbon3D ā€“ a Silicon Valley-based company founded in 2013 in Chapel Hill, NC ā€“ has completely changed the game with the introduction of CLIP technology at a recent TED Conference in Vancouver, Canada. Continuous Liquid Interface Production utilizes liquid polymer resin with two unique properties: it solidifies when exposed to ultraviolet light but remains liquid when exposed to oxygen.

The process begins in a vat of liquid resin. The bottom of the vat contains a window where ultraviolet light is beamed to illuminate the liquid causing it to solidify into a specific cross-section of the object to be created. The object is drawn continuously from the resin bath on a build platform allowing the surrounding liquid to flow under it while maintaining contact with the newly-solidified material.

The game-changing twist to the procedure is the special window at the bottom. An oxygen-permeable membrane similar to a contact lens allows UV light into the bath while retaining a thin layer of uncured resin beneath the object that keeps it from sticking to the window. In this way, the prototype can be drawn continuously from the resin bath creating a smooth, solid structure that eliminates the strata of brittle layers associated with current 3D printing methods. Additionally, this process allows for the creation of complex internal structures that have been previously unattainable such as sturdy airplane parts with the lightweight honeycomb lattice of bird bones.

This process is much faster than current 3D printing technologies. What would take a standard SLA or polyjet printer many hours to grind out slowly, layer by brittle layer, can now be grown in a few minutes like Venus rising fully-formed from the primordial foam.

Carbon3Dā€™s CLIP process should be commercially available sometime this year.

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