One of the presentations at the TED Conference in Vancouver this week that had much of the tech elite oohing and ahhing was something called CLIP (no relation to Microsoft's reviled animated helper) or Continuous Liquid Interface Production.
It's a new way of 3-D manufacturing introduced by a company called Carbon3D. CEO and co-founder Joseph DeSimone says what we've been calling 3-D printing is actually 2D printing. It's like ink printing a line over and over again until a little structure emerges, except instead of ink it's, say, plastic. This type of printing is mostly useful for making prototypes, but not really a part that could withstand regular use.
The CLIP technology, however, uses a puddle of liquid resin that has ultraviolet light and oxygen projected through it, essentially sculpting the liquid with the light, sort of like growing a crystal. The best way to understand this process is to imagine the scene from Terminator 2: Judgment Day, when from fluid metal, emerged T-1000, the AI soldier built by AI to exterminate humans. DeSimone points to that scene as inspiration and says they wondered, "How would you get something like that to work?"
What comes out of this printer comes quickly — up to 100 times faster than existing 3-D printers. In addition, the pieces it makes can be of commercial grade using a broad range of materials — and the shapes it makes are far more complex than something that could be made with, say, injection molding. You can make a tube filled with a lattice-like structure. That lace-like lattice can replace a solid structure, making objects lighter. This could be used for fabricating something like airplane seats, cutting the weight of the seat.
The printers should be for sale within the year, though Carbon3D has not yet announced pricing.