April 24, 2024

April 24, 2024

5YF Episode #14: Carbon Co-Founder Philip DeSimone

3D printing breakthroughs, AI designed products, mass customization, spare body parts, dismantling global trade, IP piracy, and the future of production w/ Carbon Co-founder Philip DeSimone

5 year frontier

Future of production: digital portals for physical goods

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Today, we look ahead at the future of how products will be designed and produced. 3D printing is having a breakout moment, turning its long held promise into a reality that is arriving at pace and at scale.

My takeaway - over the next 5 years:
  • Consumers will expect customized products at scale
  • Computers will surpass human creativity and skill in product design
  • New infrastructure is needed to protect IP if anything can be printed anywhere  
  • Global supply chains will be meaningfully dismantled as products get printed at their point of sale

My guide to the near frontier is Philip DeSimone, Co-founder of Carbon, the most advanced 3D printing company already operating at scale serving customers in 17 countries ranging from Adidas to Ford. Carbon is a vertically integrated organization developing 3D printer hardware, advancing material science inputs, and designing the software to make it all work seamlessly. With over 300 patents filed, Carbon has raised $680M from the likes of Sequoia, Temasek, and Google.

Let’s dive into what stood out when previewing the future of production through Phil’s eyes.

Consumers will expect customized products at scale

Today’s 3D printers have moved on from printing layer-by-layer — a painstakingly slow approach with limited materials — to using light to set form. The material science innovation takes print time from hours to minutes, opens up what objects can be made of, and reinvigorates the economic incentive around 3D printing.

Every consumer products company we're engaging with has a strategy to release a custom product at scale

Carbon printers can create an Adidas shoe in-store in 20 minutes. A group of 50 printers can produce 1 million shoes annually. Consumers will no longer be happy with a size 9 shoe, they’ll expect a size Phil or size Daniel. Brands and products that don’t customize will be deemed inferior and uncompetitive.

What is true for shoes is spreading to all other consumer goods that interact with our unique bodies. Our next AirPods will be customized to each ear, our bicycle seats fabricated N-of-1, while dentals are already pioneering mass 3D printing along with orthotics.

Similarly, the medical field is wrapped by the promise of bio-ink and printing biologics. Spare body parts from hips to hearts specially designed for us. A frontier that stretches the mind as to what is possible.

Computers will surpass human creativity and skill in product design

Mass customization is only made possible by removing the human bottleneck when it comes to design. Advances in computing power and AI have launched computer-led design and the results are breathtakingly beautiful.

Carbon produces custom helmets for athletes in the NFL. The protective foam is intricately designed based on sensor data relaying where the athlete receives the most impacts and how to best protect their skull based on its shape. The result is an alien looking web of foam out of reach for a human designer, let alone one that must do it across the entire league.

With 3D printing complexity comes free

The combination of an unconstrained AI designer and a production process where complex designs can be done at the micron level with little extra effort, the richness of our produced world will be nothing short of inspiring. Simply enter data and the outcome you want to achieve, then see how the system rapidly computes how best to solve for what you want.

New infrastructure is needed to protect IP if anything can be printed anywhere

The biggest shock will come with attempts to subvert intellectual property (IP). Digital design files will flow freely and be difficult to safeguard from piracy. Already high value designs are being copied in a matter of hours upon release eroding their economic value and the future incentive for producers to invest in novel design.

IP theft has been solved to an extent in music and film with streaming portals and app stores, yet goods are a far larger and fractured market that is immensely underprepared and lacks the digital infrastructure. Infrastructure that needs to be built and stands out as a clear gap in the market.

Global supply chains will be meaningfully dismantled as products get printed at their point of sale

The dismantling of manufacturing and global supply chains seems obvious in this future outlook. One that is years not decades away according to industry innovators like Phil. On-shoring of production will accelerate and regions such as China and South East Asia potentially challenged.

If a shipping container of 3D printers can produce the entire global supply of customized hearing aids then why do we need a complex global supply chain and expensive shipping lines? Why pay tariffs and enter trade wars?

In summary, 3D printing is one of the oldest infancy technologies with numerous false starts since the 1980s. As more goods come to market our education around what is possible will change quickly, and once at scale there will be no turning back to a past that will be defined by impersonal, inflexible, and time consuming good production.

Thank you to Phil, team Carbon, and all the innovators bringing forward this new frontier.

- Daniel Darling

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