Innovations in 3D printing


Image Credits: Josep Bracons (opens in a new window) / Flickr (opens in a new window) under a CC BY-SA 2.0 (opens in a new window) license.

Tyler Benster


Tyler Benster is a general partner at Asimov Ventures and the program chair of Inside 3D Printing.

Ten miles north of Barcelona lies a centuries-old hotbed for ink technology. Founded in the 9th century, the Monastery of Sant Cugat ushered in Spain’s era of ink and scrolls. Nearby, a 21st century HP facility perfected the art through bus-sized printers capable of precisely depositing a picoliter of ink as massive reams of paper whizz by.

From this backdrop comes HP’s first 3D printer using Multi Jet Fusion (MJF), an industrial machine designed by an R&D facility best known for Large Format Printing. The 3D printer uses familiar inkjet technology, combined with a powder base material and, surprisingly, even paper, for use as a cleaning roll. More than mere vestiges, the reuse of such modules underlies how HP can leverage billions of dollars in previous R&D expense to bring economies of scale to its 3D printing supply chain.

MJF closely resembles selective laser sintering (SLS) printers sold by EOS and 3D Systems. Although all systems use a similar base material, a nylon powder, MJF additionally deposits a liquid plastic “fusing agent.” This key innovation allows the printer to deposit a fusing agent for each layer in one pass rather than slowly tracing each vector. Compared to SLS, MJF is 5X faster. The quality is presumed to be superior, as well, thanks to a detailing agent that enhances edge definition.

However, the full details are yet unknown, as two plastics must mix in a novel process to form a new microstructure. While less relevant to desktop 3D printing, such details are critical to automotive and aerospace manufacturing, where new processes must go through exhaustive quality assurance processes.

This interaction between fusing agent and base powder is the source of much excitement. HP promises that future 3D printers could address each voxel with a different combination of inks to vary material properties like color, conductivity, transparency and strength.

With an addressable resolution of 1.6 TeraVoxels (where voxel means “volumetric pixel”) in 3,072 cubic inches, the hardware addresses more voxels than current software can handle. A printer with three print heads and one byte to describe each voxel would require up to 12.8 terabytes per print. HP, incumbents or startups must build new software to power “digital materials” created by combining multiple plastics in varying ratios.

Five miles northwest of the HP Garage in Silicon Valley lies a building once used for a Google car collection. Today, the building brims with Carbon’s humming 3D printers and buzzing engineers. Just a little more than a year ago, the co-founder and CEO of Carbon, Joe DeSimone, unveiled the Continuous Liquid Interface Production (CLIP) process on-stage at TED and on the cover of Science in a masterful product launch reminiscent of the late Steve Jobs.

With the launch of the Carbon M1, messaging that began as “What if 3D printing was 100x faster” became “Isomorphic parts with mechanical properties and surface finish like injection molded-plastics.” This reflects the dual reality that such speeds remain forward-looking and that throughput efficiency only matters to manufactures when parts have the necessary material properties.

While the CLIP process resembles the stereolithography (SLA) used by 3D Systems and Formlabs, Carbon touts that its parts have consistent material properties and maintain integrity when exposed to UV from the sun. These challenges constrain today’s SLA printers to prototyping and ancillary manufacturing usage. Carbon’s new materials and post-processing techniques promise to go beyond rapid prototyping and enable direct production of finished goods.

Like HP, Carbon created an open “App Store” for materials, with partners signed up to bring new chemistries to production. Existing plastics must be modified for compatibility with Carbon’s light- and oxygen-based process. Thus, a manufacturer must typically evaluate both a new manufacturing process and a new material for production. While some bleeding-edge users in automotive, medical and consumer goods have already begun production, many more incumbents will remain flat-footed, leaving room for startups to capture the emergent whitespace.

MJF and CLIP provide a jump over today’s manufacturing in a similar fashion to how Amazon Web Services disrupted the internet, enabling rapid iterations, horizontal scaling and separation of application from underlying infrastructure. With both machines starting at $120,000 — the base price for HP MJF and the cost of a three-year Carbon M1 lease — entrepreneurs can start a manufacturing business with greater capital efficiency than ever before. Software is eating the Factory.

More TechCrunch

The top vehicle safety regulator in the U.S. has launched a formal probe into an April crash involving the all-electric VinFast VF8 SUV that claimed the lives of a family…

VinFast crash that killed family of four now under federal investigation

When putting a video portal in a public park in the middle of New York City, some inappropriate behavior will likely occur. The Portal, the vision of Lithuanian artist and…

NYC-Dublin real time video portal reopens with some fixes to prevent inappropriate behavior

Longtime New York-based seed investor, Contour Venture Partners, is making progress on its latest flagship fund after lowering its target. The firm closed on $42 million, raised from 64 backers,…

Contour Venture Partners, an early investor in Datadog and Movable Ink, lowers the target for its fifth fund

Meta’s Oversight Board has now extended its scope to include the company’s newest platform, Instagram Threads, and has begun hearing cases from Threads.

Meta’s Oversight Board takes its first Threads case

The company says it’s refocusing and prioritizing fewer initiatives that will have the biggest impact on customers and add value to the business.

SeekOut, a recruiting startup last valued at $1.2 billion, lays off 30% of its workforce

The U.K.’s self-proclaimed “world-leading” regulations for self-driving cars are now official, after the Automated Vehicles (AV) Act received royal assent — the final rubber stamp any legislation must go through…

UK’s autonomous vehicle legislation becomes law, paving the way for first driverless cars by 2026

ChatGPT, OpenAI’s text-generating AI chatbot, has taken the world by storm. What started as a tool to hyper-charge productivity through writing essays and code with short text prompts has evolved…

ChatGPT: Everything you need to know about the AI-powered chatbot

SoLo Funds CEO Travis Holoway: “Regulators seem driven by press releases when they should be motivated by true consumer protection and empowering equitable solutions.”

Fintech lender SoLo Funds is being sued again by the government over its lending practices

Hard tech startups generate a lot of buzz, but there’s a growing cohort of companies building digital tools squarely focused on making hard tech development faster, more efficient and —…

Rollup wants to be the hardware engineer’s workhorse

TechCrunch Disrupt 2024 is not just about groundbreaking innovations, insightful panels, and visionary speakers — it’s also about listening to YOU, the audience, and what you feel is top of…

Disrupt Audience Choice vote closes Friday

Google says the new SDK would help Google expand on its core mission of connecting the right audience to the right content at the right time.

Google is launching a new Android feature to drive users back into their installed apps

Jolla has taken the official wraps off the first version of its personal server-based AI assistant in the making. The reborn startup is building a privacy-focused AI device — aka…

Jolla debuts privacy-focused AI hardware

OpenAI is removing one of the voices used by ChatGPT after users found that it sounded similar to Scarlett Johansson, the company announced on Monday. The voice, called Sky, is…

OpenAI to remove ChatGPT’s Scarlett Johansson-like voice

The ChatGPT mobile app’s net revenue first jumped 22% on the day of the GPT-4o launch and continued to grow in the following days.

ChatGPT’s mobile app revenue saw its biggest spike yet following GPT-4o launch

Dating app maker Bumble has acquired Geneva, an online platform built around forming real-world groups and clubs. The company said that the deal is designed to help it expand its…

Bumble buys community building app Geneva to expand further into friendships

CyberArk — one of the army of larger security companies founded out of Israel — is acquiring Venafi, a specialist in machine identity, for $1.54 billion. 

CyberArk snaps up Venafi for $1.54B to ramp up in machine-to-machine security

Founder-market fit is one of the most crucial factors in a startup’s success, and operators (someone involved in the day-to-day operations of a startup) turned founders have an almost unfair advantage…

OpenseedVC, which backs operators in Africa and Europe starting their companies, reaches first close of $10M fund

A Singapore High Court has effectively approved Pine Labs’ request to shift its operations to India.

Pine Labs gets Singapore court approval to shift base to India

The AI Safety Institute, a U.K. body that aims to assess and address risks in AI platforms, has said it will open a second location in San Francisco. 

UK opens office in San Francisco to tackle AI risk

Companies are always looking for an edge, and searching for ways to encourage their employees to innovate. One way to do that is by running an internal hackathon around a…

Why companies are turning to internal hackathons

Featured Article

I’m rooting for Melinda French Gates to fix tech’s broken ‘brilliant jerk’ culture

Women in tech still face a shocking level of mistreatment at work. Melinda French Gates is one of the few working to change that.

1 day ago
I’m rooting for Melinda French Gates to fix tech’s  broken ‘brilliant jerk’ culture

Blue Origin has successfully completed its NS-25 mission, resuming crewed flights for the first time in nearly two years. The mission brought six tourist crew members to the edge of…

Blue Origin successfully launches its first crewed mission since 2022

Creative Artists Agency (CAA), one of the top entertainment and sports talent agencies, is hoping to be at the forefront of AI protection services for celebrities in Hollywood. With many…

Hollywood agency CAA aims to help stars manage their own AI likenesses

Expedia says Rathi Murthy and Sreenivas Rachamadugu, respectively its CTO and senior vice president of core services product & engineering, are no longer employed at the travel booking company. In…

Expedia says two execs dismissed after ‘violation of company policy’

Welcome back to TechCrunch’s Week in Review. This week had two major events from OpenAI and Google. OpenAI’s spring update event saw the reveal of its new model, GPT-4o, which…

OpenAI and Google lay out their competing AI visions

When Jeffrey Wang posted to X asking if anyone wanted to go in on an order of fancy-but-affordable office nap pods, he didn’t expect the post to go viral.

With AI startups booming, nap pods and Silicon Valley hustle culture are back

OpenAI’s Superalignment team, responsible for developing ways to govern and steer “superintelligent” AI systems, was promised 20% of the company’s compute resources, according to a person from that team. But…

OpenAI created a team to control ‘superintelligent’ AI — then let it wither, source says

A new crop of early-stage startups — along with some recent VC investments — illustrates a niche emerging in the autonomous vehicle technology sector. Unlike the companies bringing robotaxis to…

VCs and the military are fueling self-driving startups that don’t need roads

When the founders of Sagetap, Sahil Khanna and Kevin Hughes, started working at early-stage enterprise software startups, they were surprised to find that the companies they worked at were trying…

Deal Dive: Sagetap looks to bring enterprise software sales into the 21st century

Keeping up with an industry as fast-moving as AI is a tall order. So until an AI can do it for you, here’s a handy roundup of recent stories in the world…

This Week in AI: OpenAI moves away from safety