The Game-Changing 3-D Printer Inspired by Terminator 2

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The big lie about 3-D printing is that it prints in 3-D. Sure, the end products are three-dimensional, but the process relies on stacking flat layers of plastic enough times to achieve a tangible third dimension. Also, it's excruciatingly slow.

Carbon3D has a better way. The Silicon Valley–based company emerged from two years of quiet tinkering yesterday at a TED conference in Vancouver and announced its innovative new take on 3-D printing that’s faster, stronger, and a hell of lot more awe-inspiring than any 3-D printer yet.

Carbon3D’s method was inspired in part by Terminator 2’s T1000, a liquid metal cyborg that has the ability to melt into a puddle of ooze and reconstitute itself fully formed. As the object "prints," an arm lifts it from the bottom of the pool as a finished three-dimensional product. A mini Eiffel Tower, perhaps. 

Based on a system called Continuous Liquid Interface Production (CLIP), the process begins with a pool of liquid resin that sits on top of a UV-emitting projector. The light from the projector cures the resin into the shape of the desired object, while a thin layer of oxygen prevents it from sticking to the bottom of the device.

The big advantage CLIP holds over other forms of 3-D printing is speed. It’s designers say CLIP is 25-to-100 times faster than conventional 3-D printing, with a lot of room to improve.

“We can go a thousand times faster, I believe,” CEO Joseph DeSimone, a chemistry professor at both UNC and NC State, said at the TED conference. As for its applications, CLIP, like most 3-D printing technology, is being touted as a manufacturer’s dream. But its speed does have DeSimone talking up one specific use that slower 3-D printing machines would likely struggle with — conjuring up a heart stent for patients while they’re right there on the operating table.