f4The Silicon Valley startup, Carbon3D, has been in the headlines a lot lately. Following their launch out of stealth mode earlier in the year with their Continuous Liquid Interface Production (CLIP) technology, Carbon3D has blown many within the industry away with the promise of fast, accurate 3D printing, using photosensitive resins. Just yesterday we did a story about the Special Effects company, Legacy Effects, who had early access to the machine, and in fact was using it for prop manufacturing for the summer blockbuster Terminator Genisys.

Although the first printers will not be available to the public until next year, it appears that more than just one company has had access to the early beta machines. Today, during Ford Motor Company’s annual ‘Further with Ford’ event, we learned that Ford, who’s former CEO Alan Mullaly is on Carbon3D’s board of directors, also has had early access to the new machine within their design and production facilities.

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In fact, Ford has been using the machine as part of their recently launched additive manufacturing research program, and it has allowed designers for the company to quickly move between concept and actual product. Ford, who received the printer back in December, prior to the company publicly unveiling their CLIP technology, says that they have already used the new pre-release version of the Carbon3D printer for current and future vehicle design. In addition, they are using it to research new materials which may have a part within future automobile design.

“Carbon3D’s CLIP technology has allowed us to realize our need for high-speed, high-quality printing of actual automotive-grade parts,” said Raj Nair, Group Vice President of Global Product Development and Chief Technology Officer. “We are excited to further our relationship and look forward to innovating together to make 3D manufacturing a reality.”

The technology behind the printer relies on both light and oxygen to cure and subsequently prevent the curing of photosensitive resins. The result of this new technology means that products can be fabricated at exceptionally rapid rates, some 25 to 100 times that of traditional 3D printers, while also allowing for smoother surface finishes, according to the company.f1

Ford has used the new printer to fabricated elastomer grommets for their Focus Electric vehicles, which are used in a space between the body of the vehicle, protecting wiring from being damaged or even cut by sheet metal within the car. They then compared these grommets to those produced with other 3D printers they had in-house. The grommets printed with Carbon3D’s machine were able to be fabricated at three times the speed, with materials which had properties much closer to those used in the actual vehicle. Additionally, Ford used the printer for the fabrication of damping bumper parts for their Transit Connect, allowing engineers to iterate upon each design much more quickly than they had been able to with other 3D printers.

“Working with Ford offers a great opportunity to further prove our technology’s ability to produce the wide range of material and mechanical properties that are needed across the automotive industry to truly achieve 3D manufacturing,” said Joseph DeSimone, CEO and Co-founder of Carbon3D.

As mentioned above, Ford also is researching their own resins, testing numerous new materials, which they have come up with, for possible use within these 3D printers. They have f6created a resin which is reinforced with nano particles, and are hoping to eventually create resins which are electrically and thermally conductive, which can be utilized to fabricate parts for future vehicles.

“We’re thrilled. The parts we’ve produced are mechanically strong, just like injection molded parts. That’s the target we’ve set for an automotive grade part,” said Ellen Lee, Team Leader, Additive Manufacturing Research at Ford. “The chemistry that Carbon3D has based their resins on has significant potential to yield functional, durable materials. We’re excited to be able to tap into their technology to create new automotive relevant materials and applications for digital manufacturing. It’s revolutionary.”

Certainly this bodes well for Carbon3D and CLIP technology, as it appears that numerous large companies are now testing these machines with very positive results. It will be interesting to see just how far Ford ultimately integrates CLIP technology within their prototyping and manufacturing processes, and what new materials may come about as a result of this partnership. Let’s hear your thoughts on this story in the Ford / Carbon3D forum thread on 3DPB.com.

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