Initial Insights from Inside 3DPrinting

Had a great time at the Inside 3DPrinting show in San Diego last week.  The booth was busy, with a lot of interesting companies and inventors with exciting project ideas paying us a visit.  Also, some great fellow panelists and questions from the audience about the present and future metal of 3D printing.

We were sufficiently swamped that I didn’t come close to paying a visit to all of the other exhibitors, so to satiate your appetite for a full update, here’s a great summary of the event written by Sarah Goehrke of Inside  Sarah and I had a nice talk about the new metal processes we announced at the show and that comes through a bit in their recap.

Cullen_R2.jpg_smallLast but not least, as the show was winding down, I stepped away from the booth and bumped into a new friend meandering down the hallway…he just happened to be going rogue from the Robotics show that was happening alongside Inside 3DP.  Pretty awesome…

3Diligent Announces Addition of New 3D Printing Processes for Metal Parts; Now Offers Broadest Range of Popular Metal Rapid Manufacturing Options

Company CEO to Speak on Future of Metal Additive Manufacturing at Inside 3D Printing San Diego


San Diego, Calif. – Dec. 14, 20163Diligent, the 3D Printing Partner for Every Business, announced today it has expanded its metal rapid manufacturing technologies to provide the most comprehensive range of 3D printing options to create metal parts anywhere.

The company has announced new capabilities which will enable 3Diligent to offer metal plating of resin and plastic parts in addition to metal casting of wax-printed parts.  These offerings complement the company’s other metal printing and machining options.

The metal 3D printing market is booming – as evidenced by industrial giant GE’s purchase of printer manufacturers Arcam and Concept Laser GmbH. Furthermore, market researcher IDTechEx reported metal 3D printer sales grew by 48 percent in 2015 and material sales grew at 32 percent.

“The size of the metal 3D printing market is growing and so are the number of different printing technologies available.  At 3Diligent, we’re committed to understanding the tradeoffs between these technologies to advise and provide our customers a single, seamless rapid manufacturing solution.  That’s why we’re pleased to add wax-to-metal and metal plating options to our already market leading breadth of capabilities,” said Cullen Hilkene, CEO of 3Diligent.

Metal plating of 3D-printed parts allows designers to achieve many of the benefits of metal printing, without the price tag. Through metal plating, parts are given a metallic appearance and additional durability.

Wax print to cast metal technology provides customers a means to access metals that aren’t readily printed any other way.  This process can be utilized for casting of precious metals or industrial alloys that aren’t readily offered in the powder form required for other types of metal 3D printing.

These processes are added to 3Diligent’s already impressive range of printing capabilities, which include Laser Melting (a.k.a. DMLS), Electron Beam Melting (EBM), and Binder Jetting with Metal Infiltration (BJMI).  The company also offers 3-, 4-, and 5-axis CNC Machining.  Information regarding these previously offered processes are already listed on the company’s website and information about the new processes will be posted in the coming weeks.

Hilkene will speak today (December 14) at 2:20 pm at the Inside 3D Printing Conference and Expo, taking place in San Diego, Calif., on a panel entitled “The Future of Metal AM: Delivering on the Promise.” Hilkene will discuss the current state of metal additive manufacturing, the technological developments on the horizon, the industries that are leading its adoption and some of the challenges with using this technology.

The company will also have a booth (#320) at the event, where it will show off some samples of parts printed by this range of metal printing processes.

For more information about 3Diligent’s 3D metal printing and other material and process options, visit

About 3Diligent

The 3D Printing Partner for Every Business, 3Diligent launched in 2014 as a way to connect clients deterred by the cost of 3D printer ownership with carefully vetted vendors to enable rapid, high quality additive manufacturing at competitive prices. 3Diligent uses data science to connect customer requests for quotes with the right set of vendors to compete for the work, then facilitates the transaction, guaranteeing parts arrive on time and to spec. This allows customers to streamline their supplier base and also allows service providers to get more out of their capital investments. For more information, visit



Amber Hack
Senior Account Executive
The David James Agency

3D Printing in Westworld: Science Fiction or Science Fact?

If you’re like me, you loved this season of Westworld.  It was awesome for many reasons – complex psychological drama, amazing scenery, compelling story lines, and some really cool science fiction underpinning it all.

For those who didn’t catch the season, but may be reading because of the 3D printing topic or the buzz surrounding Sunday’s season finale, the setting of the show is a Wild West theme park filled with robotic “hosts” that have been custom built to interact with park guests.

Central to the premise of the show – from the very opening credits – has been the concept that these hosts are so realistic that they might as well be human.  And 3D printing is the driving force for that that realism.  In striking fashion, the opener shows a 3D printer extruding material to put the finishing touches on a piano, a horse’s knee, and a gun, as well as the eye and musculoskeletal system of a host.  To cap off the intro, the printed host is being gradually lowered into a vat of material as a final step to put a smooth coat over the underlying bone and muscle.

All of this feels pretty science fiction-ey.  But is it?  Is there a foundation of science fact in this science fiction?  And if so, how far away from reality is the 3D printing in the show?

This article will explore some of the key 3D printing capabilities displayed in Westworld, discuss the state of science as it relates to these capabilities, and give you a ballpark sense of how far we are from 3D printing on par with what you’re seeing in the show.

To level set and to avoid spoilers, I’ll stick just to what we see in the opening credits.  So give this a quick watch…

Extrusion and Vat Photopolymerization

On the most basic level, are there 3D printers that behave like the processes in the opener – either extruding material from a nozzle or creating solid parts from liquid baths?  Well, for the uninitiated in the 3D printing, the answer is an absolute yes.  Extrusion – gradually depositing melted material from a nozzle – is one of the fundamental printing technologies, first brought to the market by Stratasys.  When their extrusion patents for “Fused Deposition Modeling” (FDM) expired a few years back, we saw many companies roll out new “Fused Filament Fabrication” (FFF) printers leveraging the extrusion technique.

Creating smooth parts from a bath of resin is actually reminiscent of stereolithography,  the original 3D Printing process.  With stereolithography, a platform gradually descends into a bath of light-sensitive liquid resin.  As that’s happening, one layer at a time of the resin is selectively cured by UV light focused on the platform to create a solid part.  Like FDM, the original stereolithography patents expired a few years back, giving rise to a whole family of “vat photopolymerization” machines.  Given that these sorts of printers tend to be a good bit messier than extrusion printers, they haven’t caught on as much with hobbyists.  But they are found all the time in professional and industrial R&D labs and at 3D printing service providers.

Timeline: It’s already here.

Multiaxis printing

One of the cool aspects of the opening was a robotic arm that extrudes the material at different angles.  Does this exist?  Yes, although not as unequivocally as in the question above.  A number of companies have developed early models of robotic arms that extrude material.  In fact, a Dutch artist even developed a way to extrude material in the gravity defying fashion shown in the opener.

Also, while it’s outside the scope of what we’ve seen in Westworld, we’re starting to see multiaxis 3D printing in metal powder happening as well.  Certain “hybrid” systems which combine Directed Energy Deposition 3D printing and CNC machining can move the build platform along multiple axes, achieving something not quite like the Westworld opener, but still an indication of things to come in metal.

Timeline: Multiaxis printing is in the market today, although commercialization is relatively limited at this time.

Bio Inks

While the skin and internal organs of these 3D printed hosts aren’t addressed overtly, it stands to reason that their skin perfectly mimics real skin and they have some kind vascular system to allow for blood (or blood equivalent) to circulate through their bodies.  Do such systems exist?  Not fully, but early concepts of them are being developed in campus environments today.

The printing of bio inks is an area of intense research at the moment.  Bio inks are water-based solutions that can carry living cells and be deposited by pneumatic extrusion printers.  This bio-printing extrusion process is most commonly known for printing tissue assays to accelerate the testing of new drugs.  However, this printing has been successfully utilized on campus to print skin tissue for burn victims.  And while not directly applicable to Westworld, other applications include bio printing onto biocompatible graft implants or printing bio inks directly onto fractured bone to foster bone growth.

Printing vascular systems – the network of veins, arteries, and capillaries that transport blood across the body – is currently another key area of research.  Within the context of Westworld, it’s perhaps possible that the hosts could have plastic vascular networks, and those are currently printed today to serve as surgical guides – basically practice tools for doctors before they go into surgery.


polyjet printed organs, polyjet surgical guide
Figure 1. Example of a 3D Printed surgical guide. Two cancerous bodies are clearly visible in this life-sized print of a liver

But assuming the hosts have real vascular systems, true bio printing is required, and vascular systems are difficult to print because they are soft tissue.  As a result, vascular systems that would be biocompatible are prone to collapsing under their own weight.  As a result, research is being done in printing vascular structures by extruding the material for the vascular system into something that looks like a block of jello, which can in turn be dissolved away once the system is created.

Timeline: The building blocks of vascular systems are still in the research phase.  It’s safe to assume that we’re at least 10 years away from the sort of integrated bio tissue printing implied by Westworld.

Printed Circuitry

We never explicitly see printing of internal circuitry in the show.  However, it stands to reason that if the hosts don’t have a neural network like humans, they do have some kind of built-in circuitry or other electrical conductivity.

So is printing of circuitry happening?  The answer, again, is yes, although it’s also in the early stages of commercialization.  A number of the same labs that are exploring bio ink applications have also spearheaded work in conductive inks, which utilize a similar method of deposition.  These inks are commonly silver-based and have allowed for integrated circuitry to be built into things like drones and cell phones.  Timeline: Conductive inks are actively printed in the market now for certain applications, especially antennas.  We’re probably looking at 5 years or so before functioning circuitry across a full host body would be achievable.

All-In-One Printing

Perhaps the most impressive thing about the 3D printers featured in Westworld is that they seem to have all-in-one capability – the same printer extrudes a white material to create piano strings, ligaments, bones, and revolvers.  Is that really happening?

That’s where there’s a pretty meaningful disconnect.  Currently, the closest we have to single machines capable of producing parts with multiple materials work just in resin, or just in metal.  The Stratasys J750 is probably the most prominent multi-material printer, and it works across a spectrum of resins that certainly don’t include metal or ligament.  Gradient alloys have been achieved in metal printing, but that’s largely a function of sieving in different materials at various times in the printing process.  Additionally, there are some exciting things being done with respect to 4D Printing, which involves printing bespoke materials that change shape based on different environmental conditions.

Still, none of these technologies are rapidly approaching the all-in-one capability of the printer we see in Westworld’s opening credits.  If we are to assume this printer can really do it all, it would appear to be making changes at a molecular level.  That would seem to be a long ways from where 3D printing technologies currently sit.  And if such a printer were possible, would it make sense to bundle all its functionality into a single printer rather than just use different 3D Printing tools?

Timeline: At least 15 years, if it were to ever make commercial sense.

So are we a decade from Westworld becoming a reality?

Many of the printing processes evoked by Westworld have a strong foundation already established by technologies currently in the market or on campus.  So anyone watching Westworld should know there’s a healthy bit of science fact mixed in with the science fiction.  It stands to reason that a good deal of the functional elements presented in Westworld can be achieved in the next 5-15 years.

Personally, I doubt that an extrusion printer that transitions seamlessly from printing bioinks, plastic, ligament, and metal is going to arrive in the next couple decades, if ever.  The ways these sorts of materials are printed today are wildly different.  To imagine all of it converging into a single printer feels a bit more like alchemy than the chemistry and physics of a commercial printer.

With that said, who says you need to do all the printing with a single mind-blowing printer and a vat of resin?  With continued advancement on the foundations already established by printers in the market and in academic environments, Westworld’s vision for 3D Printed everything may not be so far away as you might think.


Cullen Hilkene is CEO of 3Diligent, “the 3D Printing Partner for Every Business,” an online rapid manufacturing service that supports designers, R&D engineers, and procurement officials across a multitude of industries.  He is an alumnus of Princeton University, the UCLA Anderson School of Management, and Deloitte Strategy and Operations Consulting.  

Readers interested in printing with the technologies detailed in this post should email 3Diligent.  

The What, Why and How of 3Diligent Direct – In a Minute!

In late September, we announced our 3Diligent Direct service as a way to better service our customers that have more confidential projects, less defined procurement needs, or simply require additional support. With 3Diligent Direct, we handle every step of the 3D printing process from the request for quote (RFQ) all the way through delivery.

Since our announcement, we’ve received a number of questions on what sets 3Diligent Direct apart from our 3Diligent Marketplace options. In brief, where our 3Diligent Marketplace goes broader, 3Diligent Direct goes deeper. Click through to our 3Diligent Direct service page, or check out the video below where we present the what, why and how of 3Diligent Direct in just over a minute.

Stay tuned for more quick videos on our Marketplace Free and Marketplace Premium services as well!






Santa Barbara-Based Product Design Consultancy STEL Selects 3Diligent as 3D Printing Partner for Prototyping through Production


STEL Designs Sporting Goods, Outdoor Adventure and Consumer Electronics Products from Concept to Prototype to High Volume Manufacturing


El Segundo, Calif. – Nov. 16, 2016STEL, a Santa Barbara, Calif. product design and development agency, has selected 3Diligent, the 3D Printing Partner for Every Business, as its 3D Printing partner for prototyping through production.


STEL provides professional services at every stage of product development including industrial design, engineering, prototyping, graphic design and branding strategy. Specializing in sporting goods design, outdoor adventure, medical devices and consumer electronics, STEL delivers solutions for a range of clientele including startups, entrepreneurs and Fortune 500 companies across multiple industry categories. Some of the projects STEL has designed include Apple iPhone and Android accessories, eyewear, biking equipment and protective wear, as well as soft goods including backpacks and footwear. To view more projects, visit


Prior to partnering with 3Diligent, STEL had several 3D printers in house, but found that the task of prepping, running and servicing the printers was not the best use of the design consultancy’s resources.


Through the 3Diligent service, STEL is able to submit 3D Printing, machining, molding and casting requests for quote (RFQs) and receive bids from 3Diligent, leveraging its qualified network of rapid manufacturing providers with prosumer, professional, and industrial-grade rapid manufacturing machinery.  STEL can then execute transactions through 3Diligent’s online platform, tracking the order through to delivery.


3Diligent has streamlined the 3D Printing prototyping process for STEL by consistently providing them quality parts, fast turnarounds, and market-driven competitive pricing that allowed STEL to focus on its product development expertise. Working with 3Diligent has allowed STEL to speed up the design process and prototype design changes.


“Big or small, simple or complex, prototypes are essential in validating designs before investing in high-volume manufacturing, but the cost and lead time of some of the other 3D printers we’ve worked with were not a fit for our customers,” said Ryan Olson, Co-Founder of STEL. “Not only does 3Diligent meet our customers’ budget and time needs, it has allowed us to focus on our job, which is designing the best products possible.”


STEL uses 3Diligent to handle its customers’ 3D Printing and rapid manufacturing needs whether it’s for a final cosmetic model or a functional prototype. 3Diligent offers a gamut of materials and processes, including PolyJet, stereolithography (SLA), digital light processing (DLP), fused deposition modeling (FDM), selective laser sintering (SLS), direct metal laser sintering (DMLS), electron beam melting (EBM), binder jetting (BJ), CNC milling and turning, urethane casting, and injection molding.


“We are always pleased when a design firm of STEL’s caliber chooses us as its partner for 3D Printing and rapid manufacturing.  In this rapidly growing market, there are so many options that can be the best solution depending on the application.  At 3Diligent, we set out to provide companies a more efficient way to access the best technologies and materials on the market as their projects dictate,” said Cullen Hilkene, CEO of 3Diligent. “We’re pleased to be working with STEL and look forward to a successful partnership.”


For more information on 3Diligent’s free and premium Marketplace, or its 3Diligent Direct, which provides turnkey support for every step of the 3D Printing process from the request for quote (RFQ) all the way through delivery, visit


About 3Diligent

The 3D Printing Partner for Every Business, 3Diligent launched in 2014 as a way to connect clients deterred by the cost of 3D printer ownership with carefully vetted vendors to enable rapid, high quality additive manufacturing at competitive prices. 3Diligent uses data science to connect customer requests for quotes with the right set of vendors to compete for the work, then facilitates the transaction, guaranteeing parts arrive on time and to spec. This allows customers to streamline their supplier base and also allows service providers to get more out of their capital investments. For more information, visit





Amber Hack
Senior Account Executive
The David James Agency

GE Backs Off SLM Solutions Purchase, Audibles to Concept Laser

Commentary: GE rescinds SLM offer, instead buys Concept Laser…and Increases Offer for Arcam

GE made big news in the last 24 hours, backing off its offer to buy laser melting machine maker SLM Solutions and instead is buying fellow German company Concept Laser.  In the same breath, GE bumps its offer for Arcam, a manufacturer of Electron Beam Melting (EBM) systems.  

Check out the video below, where 3Diligent CEO Cullen Hilkene provides commentary on the implications and impacts of this news, including implications for 3D Printing companies that aren’t direct parties to these potential deals.




3Diligent’s New Services – 3Diligent Direct

Over the course of our years supporting a wide variety of customers, we’ve come to understand how different customers need and want to be supported.  In response, we recently introduced 3Diligent Direct, 3Diligent Free Marketplace, and 3Diligent Premium Marketplace.  This is the first of a series of blog posts helping you understand these new services better and the sorts of projects that are best suited to that service level.

Today we tackle 3Diligent Direct.

What is 3Diligent Direct?

3Diligent Direct is our service to support those projects that require a bit more hands-on support.

How Does 3Diligent Direct Work?

When you Create an RFQ, we ask whether you’d like to submit your job to 3D Direct or 3D Marketplace.  If you select 3D Direct, it flags your RFQ to be held up for a formal discussion of the specifics of your project.  Selecting 3D Direct also exposes the “Confidential” check box on the second page of the Create RFQ form, allowing for our stringent Confidentiality Provisions to be applied to the project.  Neither of the Marketplace options provide this feature.

We will consult with you on the project, including a deeper discussion of your project objectives, acceptable trade-offs with respect to material, process, and finish, and perhaps most importantly, how you’d like for us to engage with our vetted supplier base.  Typically, we’ll identify the top three suppliers for that specific project type, gather preliminary feedback from them on the project, and then circle back with you to identify a single partner with which to complete the project.  With that being said, we can utilize as little as one partner on a project to minimize the number of eyes that ever see your project.  Furthermore, the customer may never know it was you who submitted the project, providing another layer of confidentiality protection.

As the project unfolds, we’ll play a direct project management role, serving as an intermediary to handle all the nitty gritty elements of your project management.  You’re welcome to call or email us throughout the course of the project, where we’ll play a hands on role and loop in the engineers running the project as necessary.

In the abstract, what kinds of projects are best for 3Diligent Direct?

The best projects for 3Diligent Direct are the ones that are either a) confidential, b) not particularly well defined, or c) high leverage.

Confidential projects are a great fit, because it’s only through 3Diligent Direct that you can opt into our confidentiality provision.  Our confidentiality provision was drafted with an understanding and expectation that we’d be supporting customers with highly sensitive information, but that we’d need to share some of that information with our production partners.  We have drafted a very rigorous confidentiality provision so as to ensure that whatever NDA you’d like for us to sign, the obligation our suppliers have to us to protect your information is even stronger.

Projects that aren’t especially well defined are a great fit, because 3Diligent Direct pricing assumes a degree of project management and direct consultation about the different options for the project.  If you aren’t sure which process or material may suit you best, simply submit your RFQ through 3D Direct, and we’ll take a hands on approach in sorting through different options for you and arriving at the best final solution.

High leverage projects – those that are of critical importance – are also great fits for 3Diligent Direct.  While you can get great quality parts from any aspect of our service, with 3Diligent Direct projects, we’re personally handling the drafting of a bid and ongoing oversight of production.  This can be well worth the additional cost of project management baked into our 3Diligent Direct prices relative to Marketplace jobs.

In other words, if you want to limit the number of companies eligible to bid your project or if you’re wide open with respect to the materials and processes that might fit for your project, 3Diligent Direct is the right play.  Such projects really aren’t a great fit for Marketplace, which opens the project up to more of our supply partners for bidding and where suppliers aren’t in a very secure position to coach you through the early stages of your

More specifically, which applications use 3D Direct?

R&D Projects are commonly 3D Direct jobs.  They are typically competitively sensitive and oftentimes have unanswered elements when it comes to material and process that will be best for the project.

Production runs are also commonly 3D Direct jobs.  These types of projects generally benefit from a deeper level of hands-on interaction with the 3Diligent team.

Lastly, projects with very high quantities – especially on tight timelines – are a great fit for 3D Direct.  3Diligent brings to bear manufacturing capability across North America…on projects where we can bring to bear dozens of machines at once – something very few companies can do – our capability shines.  Stitching together these different suppliers is easier done by us on a 3D Direct job than you on a 3D Marketplace submission.

Where can I go from here?

If you’re interested in submitting a 3Diligent Direct RFQ, simply get signed up, click RFQ, and you’re off.  Just be sure to click 3D Direct on the first question!

direct select choice

Have a look at this YouTube video to see the Create RFQ process.  It’s also posted as a user tutorial on the 3Diligent Dashboard.  We look forward to supporting you on a project soon!


Announcing 3Diligent Direct and 3Diligent Marketplace

We are extremely excited to announce the launch of 3Diligent Direct alongside 3Diligent Marketplace.  Please see our press release below, then check out the services overview and related FAQ.

3Diligent Expands Manufacturing Industry Access to 3D Printing with New Service Options for Professional and Industrial Client Segments

Manufacturers Get Instant Access to Nearly 100 Industrial 3D Printing Services for Their Projects; New Offerings include 3Diligent Marketplace Free or Premium and 3Diligent Direct

El Segundo, Calif. – Sept. 28, 20163Diligent, the leading services marketplace for professional and industrial 3D Printing, announced that it is splitting its service in two to better support its growing customer base.  It is retaining its Marketplace and introducing 3Diligent Direct, which provides turnkey support for every step of the 3D Printing process from the request for quote (RFQ) all the way through delivery.

The existing 3Diligent Marketplace will now feature a free and premium subscription level for fast, affordable access to 3D Printing machines and materials.

3D Printing is a high-growth alternative for machining and urethane casting for prototypes or short run production.  However, many businesses prefer to avoid the cost and operations challenges associated with owning industrial-grade 3D printers (which can cost upwards of $1 million and require specially-trained operators) or are turned off by the quick rate of printer obsolescence. These companies have traditionally leveraged 3D Printing service providers, but the rate of industry advancement and variability of pricing and quality from one vendor to the next makes working with local providers inherently limiting.

Two-year-old startup 3Diligent has addressed these issues by developing an online platform for rapid manufacturing.  It utilizes a proprietary algorithm to give manufacturers and product designers instant access to its network of qualified service providers and rapid quotes.

“The market is evolving fast.  Our clients want to stay on the leading edge of technology, and our software-driven, hardware-agnostic approach allows them to do that,” said Cullen Hilkene, CEO of 3Diligent. “We only care about qualifying and onboarding great suppliers, then letting them do top notch work when their capabilities align with the project needs of our customers.”

3Diligent has built a network with more industrial providers and machines than any other service in the U.S., with nearly 300 industrial grade machines representing an annual capacity estimated at $500 million. The company supports a wide variety of printing materials, including resins, plastics, metals, gypsum, and ceramic. For a full list of materials, processes, and finishes available on the marketplace, visit 3Diligent’s online learning center.

The new services announced today are:

3Diligent Marketplace (Free) – Allows manufacturers to submit an RFQ and receive a number of bids from 3D Printing vendors with entry level “prosumer” machines and materials. It is designed for fast turnaround projects and idea vetting – where tight tolerances and specialized finishes are not critical.

3Diligent Marketplace (Premium) – For $99/month, manufacturer RFQs will be shared with outstanding fabricators carrying professional and industrial equipment.  Clients will receive multiple bids for their project, with access to the complete range of materials, machines, finishes, and achievable tolerances available. The pricing of the service is designed to be cost effective relative to 3Diligent Direct for customers completing four or more projects per year.

3Diligent Direct – For manufacturers who have confidential projects, less defined procurement needs, or simply require additional support (e.g., production runs), the 3Diligent Direct service provides project management from start to finish, completely eliminating the hassles associated with managing all the providers needed to optimally complete various printing projects. Client RFQs are reviewed by a 3Diligent expert to identify the optimal partner from 3Diligent’s database of fabricators. With this option, clients receive just one bid. Something about price here – like you said in the FAQ

Regardless of the service chosen, 3Diligent guarantees all parts arrive on time and to the specifications committed to on the platform.

“We are excited about launching these new services, because they allow us to offer a better level of support for our manufacturing industry customers,” said Hilkene. “Whether you are an R&D engineer, a plant manager, or a procurement agent, we have a seamless way for you to access our unmatched breadth of capability.”

All of the new services are available today.  Customers who sign up for a free account at before October 15th will be provided a free 30-day trial and 30% off upgrade code for 3Diligent Premium Marketplace to celebrate the launch.


About 3Diligent

The leading services marketplace for professional and industrial 3D Printing, 3Diligent launched in 2014 as a way to connect clients deterred by the cost of 3D printer ownership with carefully vetted vendors to enable rapid, high quality additive manufacturing at competitive prices. 3Diligent uses data science to connect customer requests for quotes with the right set of vendors to compete for the work, then facilitates the transaction, guaranteeing parts arrive on time and to spec. This allows customers to streamline their supplier base and also allows service providers to get more out of their capital investments. For more information, visit





Amber Hack
Senior Account Executive
The David James Agency

More Big News from the 3DP World: Carbon gets $80M+ Investment – Commentary

Silicon Valley investors and business partners invest in a CLIP future

Within a week of GE’s announcement it was spending $1.4B to purchase two major players in the metal printing market, we have more big investment news from the 3D Printing world.  This time, the buzz comes from Silicon Valley, and it is Carbon’s announcement that they’ve secured a more than $80M Series C round of financing.  So what do we make of this development?  Who is Carbon?  Why are they getting all this cash?  What do they intend to do with it?  And what implications does this have for the additive manufacturing market more broadly and Carbon’s competitive set specifically?  Below I try to offer a few thoughts on each question.

Who or what is Carbon?

Carbon is an additive manufacturing equipment manufacturer that developed the Continuous Light Interface Process (CLIP).  It manufactures the M1 Printer, which utilizes CLIP technology to create custom parts – currently in a handful of urethane materials.  With CLIP, a focused UV-light projector is shined on a panel at the bottom of a pool of photo sensitive resin.  The image projected on each layer cures that layer of material, then pulls the cured material upward allowing for the next layer of resin to flow into the void to be selectively cured.  CLIP technology is similar in many respects to Digital Light Processing (DLP), another “vat photopolymerization” process that utilizes projected light to “grow” parts.  The main difference, Carbon highlights, is the panel of oxygen it uses to accelerate the pace at which the resin is cured.

It is that speed which helped Carbon burst onto the scene a year and a half ago.  At a Ted Talk, Carbon’s CEO Joseph DeSimone dramatically completed an interview on stage while a latticed ball gradually materialized out of the pool of resin in a nearby M1 Printer.  It was a striking moment – one that captured the imagination of many – especially considering DeSimone mentioned Terminator 2’s liquid metal villain as a source of inspiration for the technology.

Why are they getting all this cash?

From that day to now, Carbon has done a solid job of advancing its technologies, developing promising partnerships, and demonstrating great marketing savvy.  So part of this investment is rooted in execution to date.

The second leg of this is the promise of a 3D Printed production future.

As it sits, 3D Printing is a metaphorical gnat relative to the elephant that is global manufacturing.  As of the latest Wohler’s and Associates estimate, 3D Printing represents around a $5B global market, which is still less than 1% of the $10.5T global manufacturing industry.  But while 3D Printing is still small in relative terms, its growth has been meteoric, at a roughly 30% year-over-year clip for the last half decade.  It also carries the promise that it will not simply displace existing manufacturing applications like machining, molding, and casting, but create new opportunities.  The consensus feeling is that 3D Printing is turning a critical corner from being a prototyping technology to a production technology.  I can attest to this transition – 3Diligent was born because engineering grade plastics and metals for heavier duty applications were coming to market and we believed an online platform to access these emerging technologies and materials seamlessly and on-demand would provide huge value to customers and service providers alike.

Carbon is riding – and on some level doing a significant bit in building – this same wave.

Leveraging DeSimone’s experience as a material science professor at the University of North Carolina, Carbon has developed a number of custom urethanes that they believe are superior to competing resins produced by industry incumbents.  Carbon runs these materials on their M1 machines using parameter sets developed and refined by Carbon based on every part build.   The hope of Carbon and its investors is that combining their speedy hardware, software processing, and material science will roll up into truly functional custom parts that can be built at scale.

This is the same vision being pursued by 3D Systems, Stratasys, HP, and Envisiontec, Carbon’s key competitors in the polymer 3D Printing space.  Notably at this weeks International Manufacturing Technology Show (IMTS) in Chicago, both Stratasys and 3D Systems unveiled systems geared toward production rather than prototyping.  It remains to be seen whether this investment will get Carbon to true production runs in the tens of thousands of parts first.

What are they going to do with the funding?

An investment in Carbon right now signals that Carbon and its partners believe they are truly onto something, have demonstrated sufficient market traction, and should start investing in a full-fledged build-out of its technology.  The first thing this will likely extend to is a ramping up of their manufacturing capability.  DeSimone anticipates growing from 50 installed units now to 100 by year end and 500 next year.  Scaling up manufacturing – both for M1 hardware and related consumable resins – is a costly endeavor.

Beyond ramping up production, it appears that Carbon also has designs on pursuing global growth.  Whereas it has primarily focused its growth in the United States to date, it seems to recognize that companies around the world are looking to position themselves for a 3D Printed future.  The extent to which Carbon can be the machine of choice that R&D engineers, designers, and plant managers across the world can become that technology of choice has to be top of mind for DeSimone and his team at Carbon.

Lastly, you can assume that Carbon will push some of that capital toward existing operations.  Carbon has offered up a roadmap to extend beyond the five materials they currently offer – that will require material science research funding.  And while Carbon has stated with its subscription model that it should be able to simply perform “over-the-air” updates to keep its machines up to date, it stands to reason that Carbon will continue to explore enhancements to its hardware and explore ways to broaden the application of its technology.  Currently, Carbon’s printer has a relatively tall and thin build chamber, meaning that there are certain part geometries that isn’t currently well equipped to build (e.g., an iPad) without splitting into pieces for assembly.  It’s possible that it will allocate some resources to a future model with a larger build chamber.

What are the implications of this for the industry?

At this time, it’s safe to say that incumbents 3D Systems, Stratasys, and Envisiontec all must recognize that there’s another new kid on the block.  Less than a year since HP signaled it’s going all in on 3D Printing as well with its new Multi Jet Fusion technology, Carbon has secured the funding to really go toe-to-toe with the biggest in the industry.  This investment values the company at over $1B, which puts it within 70% of the market cap for 3D Systems – the original 3D Printing company and inventor of the stereolithography technology that CLIP builds upon – and nearly the same value as Stratasys, the other major publicly traded polymer 3D Printing company.

Aside from the fact that Stratasys, 3D Systems, and Envisiontec face another credible threat for market share beyond the threat that HP poses, my sense is that this doesn’t necessarily serve as a signal for consolidation in the market.  Whereas GE’s deal last week creates a single player in the metal printing market with disproportionate resources, the polymers space remains fragmented with a number of viable players.  I think you can expect these companies – plus some others that are also making a push for this market at a global level (e.g., Prodways) – to continue duking it out for a while before any clear winners emerge.  It’s possible you could see pairing up in an effort to consolidate the market in the face of these new competitive threats – or potentially another purchase from GE (they’re invested in Carbon) or HP.  But because the polymers market is older, the growth is a bit slower, and the battle lines longstanding, the calculus in polymer 3D Printing doesn’t add up in quite the same way as it does in the metals market.

What are the implications of this for you?

If you’re reading this as someone who uses or is interested in using 3D Printing technology, this is good news for you.  Whereas GE’s play in the metals market may deter competitive investment, accelerate consolidation, and potentially deter innovation, Carbon and HP being added to the mix has demonstrably pushed market incumbents to take notice and try to innovate at a faster pace.  The likelihood that we’ll arrive at true production 3D Printed polymer end-use parts – and distributed mass production of custom goods – has gone up with this announcement.

While we wait for any sort of clear leader to be established – if that day ever truly comes – 3Diligent is the perfect partner to support you with our 3D Printing services.  3Diligent was built on the premise that this sort of tectonic shifting in the market was inevitable and likely to continue for at least the next decade, if not longer…the market opportunity is just too big for us not to see more players pursuing innovation breakthroughs and market share.  That’s why we are focused on developing innovative procurement software and developing relationships with service providers that are investing in and developing expertise with these different technologies.  We are pleased to offer 3D Printing services across Carbon, 3D Systems, Stratasys, Envisiontec, and more than a half dozen other brands across plastics, metals, and more.

We look forward to supporting you on a project soon – perhaps with a Carbon printer manufactured with the proceeds from this funding round…


Cullen Hilkene is CEO of 3Diligent, “the 3D Printing Partner for Every Business,” an online rapid manufacturing service that supports designers, R&D engineers, and procurement officials across a multitude of industries.  He is an alumnus of Princeton University, the UCLA Anderson School of Management, and Deloitte Strategy and Operations Consulting.  


The Evolving State of American Manufacturing

Automation driving productivity gains but retraining programs needed

A really insightful article was published by Ylan Q. Mui of the Washington Post today.  It spoke about the current state of American manufacturing, which has obviously been a topic of immense focus in this election cycle.

What the article tells us is that American manufacturing is actually doing very well, at least from an aggregate production standpoint.  In fact, total output is nearing the all-time high levels that occurred immediately prior to the Great Recession.

american manufacturing, automation impacts on productivity
The Fed notes that total American manufacturing production has climbed significantly in the last few decades.

It is true that the total number of Americans employed in manufacturing has gone down significantly in recent years.  But that inherently implies that the people doing the manufacturing are reaching new levels of productivity on a per person basis.

We can speak to this first hand.  Every day at 3Diligent, we interact with companies pursuing more effective production of their next generation prototypes, production parts, replacement spares, and custom tools to support some of their traditional manufacturing processes.  All of these companies recognize that advancements in technology are providing them new and better ways of doing things.  Injection Molding, CNC Machining, and most recently Additive Manufacturing (a.k.a. 3D Printing) are all examples in that progression.  Our rock star contract manufacturing partners utilize those tools to accelerate innovation and make our customers more competitive in the global marketplace.

Automation is a good thing.  It allows us to innovate faster and produce more products locally that otherwise would need to be sent overseas to be price competitive.  While the pace of change can sometimes make us uncomfortable, we have to recognize that short of an international truce on technological advancement, continued automation is going to happen.  Because America doesn’t have a monopoly on processors, memory chips, and the internet, trying to pump the brakes on technological advancement only stands to leave us behind those countries who are pushing forward aggressively.  Better to be the ones doing the innovating and creating the next generation technologies than the ones having to buy them from overseas once foreign countries have developed them.

With that said, whether it be to automation or overseas labor, there are a significant number of manufacturing professionals who have been lost in the shuffle.  So for all the macro benefits that faster times to market and lower unit costs provide the American economy, at the micro level, there are some very real consequences for those individuals displaced by technological advancement and their families.

The number of American workers in the manufacturing sector has declined in recent years
The number of American workers in the manufacturing sector has declined significantly in recent years

It is of critical importance then that America develops retraining programs for manufacturing workers displaced by automation and globalization.  Such retraining programs can equip those displaced workers with the skills to tackle jobs for the new manufacturing economy or transition them into other industries.

That is one of the reasons that we at 3Diligent are big supporters and proud members of America Makes, the National Additive Manufacturing Innovation Institute.  In addition to funding a wide number of research programs helping foster American innovation in the area of 3D Printing, they are also starting to really tackle the challenge of helping train the next generation of American manufacturers in how to get the most out of additive manufacturing technology and take this innovation from the R&D lab to the shop floor.

American manufacturing is doing admirably but it isn’t without some serious growing pains.  We are excited to support innovative companies that are embracing this evolution and organizations like America Makes doing the right things to help retrain American manufacturing workers to succeed in these times of rapid change.