Additive Manufacturing Strategies

Carbon Design Engine 3D Printing Software Available to Non-Carbon Customers

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Carbon Design Engine is a lattice design software that Carbon made for its customers. The company has now announced that, in 2022, you can license the software and use the output on any printer. The main feature of Design Engine is a near automated way to create conformal and multi-zone lattices, which makes it quicker to produce effective lattices in products.

“Creators are challenged with fragmented solutions and organizational silos that have caused friction, limitations on innovation, and delayed time to market. To successfully bring better products to market in less time, organizations need a platform that unifies product design, development, and manufacturing. Carbon’s software suite, starting with Design Engine, aims to cover every step needed for companies to create products with superior performance while accelerating the time to market,” noted Phil DeSimone, Carbon’s Chief Product and Business Development Officer.

Carbon extolled the virtues of lattices, pointing out that they reduce the material needed to produce an object, while making it possible to modify a part’s mechanical properties. In turn, it’s possible to create parts that are lighter in weight, but can be designed to offer such performance characteristics as flexibility, improved cushioning and dampening, and heat dissipation. The software is also cloud based, putting the burden of computation onto Carbon’s servers, rather than the computers of engineers, so that lattice designs can be created quickly and, as Carbon puts it, “helps creators go from idea to functional lattice part in hours, rather than days.”

One customer is bicycle manufacturer Specialized, which has worked with Carbon to design 3D printed bike saddles. Emma Boutcher, Saddles, Grips and Tapes Product Manager at Specialized states, 

“We’ve invested heavily in research and innovation, with the goal of improving riders’ experience on the bike. Our collaboration using Carbon’s Design Engine software and 3D printing process enabled us to develop a saddle with different damping characteristics, something impossible with traditional foam, leading to superior comfort. We wanted to push the limits and our partnership with Carbon allowed us to do just that,”

This is a good move for anyone wanting to explore the creation of lattices. I’m a lattice skeptic. Personally, I don’t like them since we can not predict long term fatigue properties of lattices and really see how these would fail. Over time, how do lattice structures perform, how will they age, and how will mechanical properties change? Lasagna you can build stuff with. Spaghetti is unpredictable. I also don’t like the open structure of lattices and think they’re a magnet for debris. I much prefer the infill patterns we have in material extrusion and FDM’s ability to encapsulate air in a chamber or produce gradient parts with infill. But lattices are undoubtedly hot and people want to play with them. And if you look at this as a light-weighting type of play and a way to use significantly less build material and time in prints, it is indeed very exciting.

What does this move mean for Carbon itself? The company won’t sell you a machine, it wants to lease it to you. It wants to slice the files remotely, not allow you to do it. All of a sudden, a complete command-and-control company that wants to master its entire offering is playing nice with others? What happened? Did the Carbon business development team get lost at MRRF and come back in a kumbaya mood?

Given the very exciting properties of Carbon’s materials and the huge launch that the company did, we can conclude carefully that adoption of Carbon as a manufacturing technology has been somewhat slower than anticipated. Whereas, the Adidas project was spectacular and did lead to the team producing many shoes, as they had promised, it’s unclear where the firm is headed now. It seems to have focused its efforts on partnerships with sporting goods companies to make lattice products for that market. I do believe that sporting goods is a huge opportunity and ancillary opportunities such as grips and headrests represent billion-dollar applications. But, the company has raised over $600 million and came out swinging in 2015 with a video.

About his process, Carbon founder Joseph DeSimone said, “Current 3D printing technology has failed to deliver on its promise to revolutionize manufacturing. Our CLIP technology offers the game-changing speed, consistent mechanical properties and choice of materials required for complex commercial quality parts.”

I’ve been a notable, and publicly lone, Carbon skeptic for years now. I’ve stated that I was skeptical about the size of the parts Carbon could make and that I thought that the geometries would be limited. And, I’ll admit, they did pull off the shoe thing (although again I’m worried about the long term performance of these parts, but they pulled it off). And now I’m skeptical about where the firm is headed. Is there growth?  Presumably they are working on some fundamental improvements to the technology?  I just don’t know. To me, Carbon is a mystery. And don’t get me wrong I hope that they make it, I hope we all make it. Anyone’s success in this market is a catalyst for our collective success. We don’t compete with each other we compete with a wasteful mass manufacturing world.

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