While it’s the applications that draw wide attention to Carbon, and the advanced hardware, software, and materials that keep focus on the California-based company, ultimately any success comes down to one area where Carbon truly shines: its personnel. When I visited Carbon headquarters earlier this month, CEO Dr. Joseph DeSimone took the time to personally show me the facility — and I noticed much more than the 3D printers as we walked.
Attention-grabbing as the larger machines dedicated to adidas footwear are, and the clear attention to detail in every piece of development and production, it also stuck out to me that DeSimone was on a first-name basis with everyone we passed. An office-free environment, Carbon HQ is designed to be conducive to the exchange of ideas as the team work in shared spaces that allow for the free sharing as well of ideas. An open office strategy might not be for everyone, but the proof is in the pudding for this innovative company where a shared vision is built on a strong foundation of internal communication.
DeSimone, a co-founder of the company, is unabashedly enthusiastic about the caliber of the Carbon team. When we sat down following our facility walk-through, he underscored the strengths in both technological advances and the people behind them.
“We are moving toward production, integrating more for workflow connectivity, understanding it all — we’re turning the juice up and going faster and faster,” he told me.
Speed and resin properties are very important, he noted, as “the ability to print fast is there”; speed, after all, is how Carbon first made its name heard in the industry. Today, “a lot of the work is in software,” he noted, as the company works to enhance capabilities to allow for heat transfer and control to “work at elevated temperatures and get the quality” needed.
“Our roadmap is pretty clear to push throughput,” he said.
Turning to the team, he returned to a point he had made while we had walked, noting that a good portion of the employees have backgrounds in innovation, specifically having worked with Tesla. Just as Tesla is the only car designed to update regularly with over-the-air software updates to enhance functionality and add new features, Carbon’s unique networked system allows for frequent software updates that can go out to the entire installed hardware base.
“Every six weeks, religiously, we send out updates for all our printers. We can do selective beta for new resins, where we can beta and test new products through a really close relationship with our partners, and update specific machines to support the new materials. Like Tesla, every part of our system is controllable and measured; this allows us to debug remotely. There are not many hardware options out there like this. It allows us to constantly improve. Printing quality is now through the roof. Being connected lets us do that,” he explained as we walked.
He added during our sitdown, “We have a pretty amazing group of people from Tesla here. Understanding hardware that is remotely controllable is key. We have a complete digital twin of our process. We’re constantly maturing, constantly updating.”
Key to software capabilities is, of course, the ability to design for the specific process in use. As design for additive manufacturing (DfAM) comes further into focus across the 3D printing industry, Carbon is focusing specifically on design for its Digital Light Synthesis (DLS) technology. Major strides in lattice design and textures are offering a wider range than ever in capabilities from Carbon.
“We talk a lot about designing, making, engineering, and delivering products. Much of that needs to be tied directly to printing itself,” DeSimone said.
Carbon has developed an automatic way to produce conformal lattices, without human intervention, and with no printability defects.
“This is a really key technological breakthrough,” he heralded of the achievement.
“A lot of times our customers know the mechanical qualities they want, but they don’t know the struts or materials. This is really a software problem.”
The team built up the capability for the ability to input a user-defined mechanical response and design constraints, using “primitive CAD,” and leverage the Carbon software and lattice library to take advantage of the conformal lattice capabilities autonomously. Conformal lattice structures are optimized for the geometries of a specific part, oriented to account for that design.
An immediately visible example of such design is the midsole for the adidas Futurecraft 4D shoes, as lattice structures allow for appropriate amounts of differentiated support depending upon weight distribution on the foot. A lighter structure is needed at the arch, while more support is necessary at the heel and ball of the foot.
“Carbon software can automatically generate the appropriate lattice based on the desired performance. The lattice would be sparse where the load is light and dense where the load is high. This variable density conformal lattice filling capability is unique to Carbon,” the company explained in a software update last summer.
DeSimone noted that Carbon’s customers often report that its finite element analysis (FEA) are “the best” — and that’s “because we needed it.” Carbon developed tools to successfully predict pre- and post-buckling behavior of lattice struts, and works with simulation to ensure printability of designs. All of these software tools ensure that one print will be all that’s needed for each design.
“The simulation tool applies a printability score, and sends that back to the library for optimization. It goes back and spits out a part that’s exactly what the customer wanted on the first print. This is a closed-loop autonomous process. It’s in beta now, and we are working closely with a lot of our customers,” he said.
Another feature he noted as being exciting is surface finish, as Carbon has built what he described as “basically an app store for textures.” One click populates a part with a surface texture that will print without defects in what was designed to be an “amazingly simple tool.”
“Textures are going beyond aesthetics, and becoming functional. As the app store grows with textures for different applications, we have more to offer our customers,” DeSimone told me.
Ultimately, each advance Carbon makes is intended to make its customers’ lives easier when it comes to manufacturing. A streamlined process, regular updates to enhance productivity, and automated and one-click offerings add to the benefits of 3D printing for production that the company exemplifies.
“We’re very excited about this new future additive will bring,” DeSimone said.
“There are many things moving that we’re very excited to see in different verticals, in healthcare, dental, consumer goods like we’ve seen with Vitamix. We’re very excited to be at the fore of this new future. If you had a digital fabrication technique, you can accelerate the economy. There is amazing opportunity to accelerate the economy, to drive advances.”
Carbon is additionally driving advances through workforce initiatives focusing on an inclusive environment that leads to higher productivity and a broader range of experiences to lead to advances. The company champions leadership in inclusion and diversity, supporting initiatives internally and throughout the industry.
An appointment DeSimone had alluded to in our conversation has just been made public, as today Carbon introduces its new Vice President of People, Libby Wolfensperger.
“I’m excited to join Carbon, a dynamic Silicon Valley innovator and global leader in digital 3D Manufacturing. I’m looking forward to being part of such an incredible team, and to directly contribute to the company’s phenomenal culture and growth,” said Wolfensperger.
“We are very excited to welcome Libby to the Carbon team. Libby joins at a critical time in Carbon’s journey, as we continue to rapidly expand our team both here in the U.S. and globally. Our employees are our greatest asset and her extensive experience will play a crucial role in our growth, while helping us preserve our company’s special culture,” DeSimone says in today’s release.
Carbon looks forward to a bright future in additive indeed, continuing to innovate in technology and to exemplify the values of industry leadership.
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[All photos: Sarah Goehrke]