Carbon, a hot 3D printing startup promising production speeds of up to 100 times faster than traditional printers, is raising $81 million from a number of big name manufacturers hoping to adopt the technology.
GE Ventures, BMW, and JSR are investing as the Redwood City, Calif.-based startup’s first strategic investors. The new investment is an extension of its $100 Series C round, which was led by Ventures. Its total funding now comes to $222 million.
GE and BMW have aspirations of incorporating Carbon’s machine, called the M1, into their manufacturing lines. BMW has already started placing Carbon’s printer in its Germany production facilities. Optics specialist Nikon and chemical company JSR are both Japanese and will help Carbon enter the Japanese market.
“We’re really focused on making final parts at game changing speeds,” said Dr. Joseph DeSimone, CEO and cofounder of Carbon as well as a chemistry professor on leave from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. “We’re going to be competing with injection molding.”
Carbon calls its 3D printing technology ”Continuous Liquid Interface Production,” or CLIP, where a machine pulls a solid object from a small tub of liquid plastic. It’s a variation on a decades-old technique called stereolithography, or the use of light to solidify liquid plastic.
DeSimone’s contribution as a chemist was to replace the bottom of the tub with a pane of glass that, like a contact lens, is porous to air. The air creates a cushion under the resin that is one-thousandth of an inch thick, so the liquid never sticks to the glass. A UV light firing from beneath the glass solidifies the bottom layer of plastic in a precise pattern dictated by the object’s 3D file. A robotic arm slowly pulls the object out of the pool, and more resin flows under.
Carbon says it can produce objects of higher resolutions at speeds 25 to 100 times faster than traditional stereolithographic printers and several other techniques.
Carbon is still ramping up production of the machine — only 50 exist out in the market today and will be at 100 by the end of the year. The company sells the machine through a subscription model, with customers paying a monthly fee and get access to regular software updates that add new capabilities to the machine.
Carbon customers include BMW, Ford and auto supplier Delphi. In the recent $81 million investment round, a few athletic footwear companies also invested into Carbon, but their names weren’t announced at the time.
Correction: The company changed its name from Carbon3D to Carbon. Post updated to reflect the change.