Dinsmore & Associates is one of the nation’s first 3D printing firms to make production parts using Carbon’s M1 printer
By Mark Langlois, Senior Editor
The M1 3D printer by Carbon (formerly Carbon 3D), touted as a faster, more disruptive 3D printer than traditional layer-by-layer 3Ds, is in use and producing parts.
“It’s a lot faster. It’s pretty awesome,” said Regina Tran, a product designer and CAD designer at Dinsmore & Associates, Irvine, California, who has worked with various 3D machines for nearly three years. Tran is one of four designers and lab technicians at Dinsmore who worked with the M1 since March.
Jay Dinsmore, company president and CEO, said in an email interview that he was interested in Carbon as soon as he heard of it. He met Carbon founder Joseph DeSimone in Jacksonville, Florida, at an industry event two years ago and was fascinated by the company’s evolving technology, known as Continuous Liquid Interface Production (CLIP).
“I had been closely watching Carbon and their developments since the news first hit the street about what they were doing,” Dinsmore said. “The fact that we can print in production-ready materials, their heavy materials development research and development efforts, and the speed in which we could print certain geometries is what was appealing to our team here at Dinsmore.”
Dinsmore & Associates, founded in 2002, is a single-source provider of design and engineering, 3D printing, CNC machining, and injection molding services. The company, which also offers an MC2 plating process, creates parts for hospitals, automotive, aerospace, outdoor gear, start-ups, medical supply firms, consumer product companies, schools, and the arts and film industries. It also creates rapid prototypes for inventors and artists. The company employs about 20 people, including industrial, electrical, and mechanical engineers, in its 14,000-square-foot facility. Dinsmore can assist clients at any of three typical stages of a project—design for prototyping, 3D printing, and rapid manufacturing.
“Dinsmore & Associates has produced concept models used in dynamic testing, product evaluation, and overall fit/function applications,” said James Ward, vice president of marketing, in an email interview. “A team is assigned to each project to ensure every interaction is seamless and on time.”
In addition to CLIP, Dinsmore’s 3D printing capabilities include Stereolithography (SLA), Selective Laser Sintering (SLS), Direct Metal Laser Sintering (DMLS), PolyJet, Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM), and plastic casting. Fine Resolution Stereolithography (FRSLA), which is a version of SLA for products that are small with extremely fine detail, is a Dinsmore patented process for parts down to 0.005-inch.
“Although additive manufacturing is what we have become known for, we have expanded our CNC manufacturing capabilities,” Ward said. “We have multiple CNC mills and lathes ready to take projects to the next stage in the development cycle. That includes the development of hard tooling to be used in injection molding.” He explained that many parts come to Dinsmore because modern designs might integrate electronics, metals, plastics, and circuitry—all in a single product. “That’s when you start to see the limits of a given manufacturing process. You still have to reach out to laser cutting, welding, and CNC milling, and a lot of designers and developers don’t realize that.” That is a Dinsmore specialty.
CLIP Turns Traditional 3D Printing on its Head
Carbon, a Redwood City, California-based company that says it’s working at the intersection of hardware, software, and material science to deliver on the promise of 3D printing, invented a technology that has turned traditional 3D printing on its head. Traditional 3D printing adds layer after layer of a resin or metal in an ever-rising shape until the part is completed. In Carbon’s CLIP process, a part is pulled up from a pool of liquid resin in a photochemical process. Unlike traditional 3D printing, the Carbon process eliminates the obvious layers that must be sanded away from a traditional 3D part. It is also quicker than other 3D production processes.
Carbon has had a rapid growth spirt since DeSimore revealed the technology in a TED talk in March 2015. He said in the talk that the work had started two years earlier, but developments moved quickly from then on.
Ford partnered with Carbon in June 2015. Carbon won a $100 million investment, led by Google Ventures, in August 2015. In January 206, Johnson & Johnson chose Carbon as a partner to create custom surgical devices. On March 1, Carbon announced four new service bureau customers, and on March 11, Kodak and Carbon announced a joint agreement for materials development. On April 1, Carbon revealed its commercial 3D CLIP printer, M1, as a commercial product. On August 16, Carbon added two new service bureaus, including Dinsmore, which has been working with the M1 since March.
“Our first five months have been good. There is definitely a learning curve with this technology. It is new and we are learning from Carbon, and they are learning from Dinsmore. It has definitely met our expectations and our clients’ expectations,” Dinsmore said.
Carbon Supports M1 in Real Time
The M1 is reported to collect more than one million process control data points per day, and is connected via the internet to Carbon. As a result, Carbon is able to diagnose problems remotely, help optimize printing, and improve print quality over time. Tran said the company is right there if Dinsmore has a question.
“It helps getting support—hardware and software support—from them,” said Tran. “It makes it easier. They monitor our machine and the health of our machine. If we get a little power surge and the machine shuts off for 10 minutes, they call up and ask if everything is all right. They call. They email. They’re very supportive.”
Carbon’s help includes assisting with questions that come up regarding the design of complicated parts that have complicated internal structures. “Not all parts are a good fit for a machine,” Tran said. “The shape is odd, so we’ll send this to them and say ‘This is what it looks like. How would you support this? Can we print it?’”
Tran said the learning curve goes in both directions. Carbon is connected to all of its M1 machines, so it is constantly seeing what other companies are producing with the M1. It has its own design ideas, and that list grows daily.
“They’ll try to educate us on how to do things. It’s still an on-going thing. They have their door open. They’re learning from us as well, because we’ll see more of a variety of parts than they ever will. We throw them a curve ball and they say, ‘OK let’s see,’” Tran said.
One surprising improvement that the M1 offers over other 3D printers is that it creates production-ready parts.
“The nice thing about the M1 is the parts are production grade. They’re ready to go on the shelf,” Tran said. “With the older SLA 3D printing technology, finished parts are often used to create molds for use in injection molding. They’re prototypes.”
Another difference between working with the M1 and an SLA 3D printer is how parts are designed.
A traditional 3D part needs supports to hold it up as it is constructed layer by layer. A Carbon M1 part has to be supported so it doesn’t fall down as it’s being pulled from the liquid resin.
Another design issue arises because the part is pulled up from a liquid. The designer must avoid creating a vacuum between the part and the liquid, in the same way that pulling a cup from a tub of water creates a vacuum in the cup. Sometimes designers add an air hole in the side of the part to let air in and avoid creating a vacuum. In other cases, they design the part on its side so that no vacuum is created.
Another difference between SLA and M1, Tran said, is in the post processing.
The M1 parts must be hardened by baking after they’re washed and the supports are removed. That process can take four hours.
The SLA piece is also washed and its supports are removed. If it has internal structures, any residual material is removed from those structures. In some cases, designs are created that include openings to remove residue from internal structures.
Tran said that Dinsmore has produced shelf-ready products since March on the M1. They include action figures from the Overwatch first-person shooting video game, sunglass components, cell phone cases, and ear buds. She said the list keeps growing.
“We’ve produced stents,” Tran said. “The stuff we print off the M1 is done. They go on the shelf.”