3D printing stalwart Carbon today lifted the veil on its next-generation 3D printing workhorses, the Carbon M3 and M3 Max. Aimed at high-end prototyping and manufacturing processes, the printers are available on subscription-based packages, and offer a raft of upgrades and improvements over the previous-generation printers.
One of the highlights across the new range includes simplified printer experiences with better control over the print process, reducing failure modes. The printers have a broader design space, meaning users can create parts that prior generations of printers couldn’t, which further unlocks new geometries and high-strength parts. Better heat management (both heating and heat diffusion) means that the printers can print faster, and the greater resolution results in smoother parts and higher precision for 3D-printed surface finishes. The printers are also able to print with higher repeatability, meaning that each part can be printed with less variability.
The M3 Max printer has a bigger build area as well — double the build area as the M3, in fact, with the same pixel size and density as its smaller brother, making the M3 Max better suited for larger parts, producing many smaller parts.
The company is oddly tight-lipped about its pricing for the new printers — no doubt because it’s playing the enterprise game of trying to charge its customers as much as the market will sustain.
“Carbon makes industrial-class printers with the M1 starting at about $2,100 per month, billed annually, with a 36-month commitment,” explains Carbon’s director of product marketing Rob L’Heureux. “Before we are talking about price, we want to know a little bit about what [our customers] want to do and make sure that we’re recommending the right device for them. In general, the price per part goes down as the systems get larger and more capable.”
If you’re playing along with a calculator at home, that means that you’re talking about a $75,000 price tag over three years for the older-generation printer. In other words, this isn’t the printer you have in a cupboard to print out the odd Pokémon figurine for your cousins from time to time, but serious industrial workhorses.
“As you start to lower the cost per part, your total addressable market expands,” explains Philip DeSimone, chief product officer and chief business development officer at Carbon, before highlighting that while prices go down, there’s definitely still a place for injection molding in the manufacturing mix. “There is a lot of talk about when [3D printing] is going to compete against injection molding as far as pricing. We are never going to compete on price with injection molding when it comes to plastic forks and spoons and K cups and things like that.”
With a hefty price tag, the printers are especially helpful in environments where manufacturing needs to happen quickly, where small changes need to be possible on an ongoing basis; or for products where customization is a big deal. Examples of customized products that exist in the market today are the $450 Specialized bike saddles that are customized to fit your rear-parts, or Adidas’ custom 3D printed “4D” series of shoes.
“The bottleneck in manufacturing is often traditional manufacturing technologies. If I have to get an electrical connector made that I need for an autonomous driving sensor, that injection-molded tool is going to cost half a million dollars and take six to eight months before I even see a physical part of my hand,” laments DeSimone, making a compelling case for 3D printing tech. “For us, it’s really about helping truncate every little piece of that. Even if we can help them get to the production tool faster. That’s still a win in my book — we’ve achieved our company goal of helping you get to market faster with your game-changing products.”
The main driver for using Carbon’s tech in manufacturing spaces is printer utilization; a printer that’s sitting around doing nothing is a waste of money.
“I visit a lot of additive facilities where you walk in and see printers sitting there not being utilized. For us, that is not a good thing. We want to make sure these printers are used. It’s why we have an industry-leading 40+ print hours per week per machine across our entire install base across every industry,” DeSimone says. “With this next generation of industry-leading printers — combined with our Design Engine software and Carbon DLS materials — design teams across business verticals can create incredibly high-quality prototypes with end-use performance quicker and more efficiently than ever before.”
The M-series of printers have been around for a while, starting with the launch of the M1 back in 2016. These printers are still in production use, and are still available from the company, but the shiny new M3 adds a bunch of additional bells and whistles that makes it a better fit for certain prototyping and production requirements.
The M3 has a way better user experience, for one thing. There’s a touchscreen that adds some of the user-friendliness you’d expect from a consumer product. The M3 Max, the company claims, is the first 3D printer to leverage a 4K DLP light engine, which almost doubles the build envelope over its previous machines, while keeping the same resolution, without sacrificing print speed.
“Larger print sizes is historically a problem in 3D printing; as you get to bigger build areas, your accuracy, print speed and consistency declines,” explains DeSimone. “That’s why we are super excited about the launch of the new printers. This is the first time you’ll be able to get to a larger build area, while maintaining all those things that you know and love. A tremendous amount of engineering went into making that possible.”
Print speed is one area that the Carbon team is particularly proud of, and the M3 series is showing some marked improvement there — speed increases that are coming from an angle you may not necessarily expect.
“The printers are faster for two reasons. One is a technology that we call force feedback. Historically, our printers we would optimize using what we call manual scripting. People would have the ability to change how fast they wanted the part to print in different areas based on how they were trying to optimize production. We wanted to remove that because it was kind of a dark art of the printing process. The force feedback does all of that in real time. It has a highly sensitive sensor on the build platform as it’s pulling up in that z-direction,” explains DeSimone. If the printer senses additional suction forces, the printer automatically slows down. “It has a closed-loop feedback system that allows you to print at the fastest possible rate that you possibly can.”
“The second major product feature is a completely redesigned window technology. As you can imagine, thermals massively determine how materials print. Some materials actually do better if you’re cooling tem, because they have highly exothermic reactions, and you want to pull the heat out. Other resins do better if you heat it up to lower viscosity,” says DeSimone, explaining how heating and cooling adds another aspect of controllability over the print process. “This means we optimize the print process in ways that previous technologies could not have. The ability to dissipate heat as well as add heat as needed, really helps. Both of those innovations in unison are really what’s allowing us to drive the speed improvements.”