Large manufacturers of high-tech products, from luxury vehicles to elastomers and resins, have lined up to invest in and partner with Carbon (formerly known as Carbon 3D) the Redwood City, Calif. company known for its rapid, 3D-printing technologies.
The three-year-old startup added $81 million in venture funding to its Series C round from strategic investors, including BMW Group, GE, Nikon and JSR Corp., and earlier venture backers including GV and Sequoia Capital, among others.
Carbon plans to use the new funding to manufacture and lease their CLIP or “continuous liquid interface production” technology, and develop and sell materials to customers internationally.
Carbon CEO and co-founder Joe DeSimone said:
“We believe that 3-d printing is a misnomer. It’s historically 2-d printing over and over again and the breakthrough we [had] and wrote about in the research journal Science laid out our approach where we use light and oxygen to grow parts.”
Using Carbon’s CLIP tech, manifest in their flagship M1 machines, manufacturers can make functional prototypes, or a small volume of parts, 25 to 100 times faster than they could using other industrial 3D printers, DeSimone claims.
Parts made on Carbon machines, using the company’s cloud-based design software, resins and elastomers, have different mechanical properties and a smoother surface than parts produced on traditional CNC machines.
That’s because they’re not deposited layer by layer, cut or milled. They’re sculpted, in effect, by precisely applying light and oxygen, to a liquid pool of material. That enables users of Carbon to create lattices, which can give objects like drones or vehicles structural integrity without unnecessary weight.
Early customers of Carbon include a Hollywood special effects studio called Legacy Effects, BMW and Ford Motor Co.
Carbon also supplies its printers to service bureaus like Sculpteo, and The Technology House in Cleveland, where industrial designers or consumers can outsource custom prototyping and parts production.
By now, Carbon has leased out 50 of its machines, and expects to have 100 operating in the field by the end of the year, and 500 in the next year at least.
It also has clients and partners in aerospace, athletic apparel, automotive, consumer electronics, industrials and medical devices and equipment.
According to Carbon board member Jim Goetz, a partner at Sequoia Capital, the startup’s new, strategic backers are “lighthouse customers, people who could transform their own businesses through new approaches to manufacturing.”
He expects Carbon, long-term, has the potential to bring manufacturing jobs back to the U.S., particularly the Midwest, and could do something similar in parts of Asia and Europe where manufacturing once boomed.
The new expansion round brings Carbon’s total venture capital raised to date to $222 million. The company is valued at $1 billion.
The CEO confirmed this will likely be the last time Carbon seeks venture funding.
The company generates recurring revenue by renting out its machines, or leasing them on three-year contracts. It also generates revenue from selling resins, elastomers and other materials it develops to users of those printers.
This business model makes Carbon distinct from companies that sell large, industrial 3D printers outright.
The company is competing against large incumbents like Stratasys, which is newly committed to the industrial market for 3D printing after previous and disappointing initiatives to spark a consumer trend with desktop 3D printers.