Overall and Distribution and Manufacturing
Dr. Joe DeSimone | Carbon, Inc.
Dr. Joe DeSimone, Co-Founder and CEO
Redwood City, CA
Moving at a fast clip
Dr. Joe DeSimone is transforming the manufacturing world with 3D printing unicorn Carbon.
Entrepreneurs can rarely point to one inflection point that thrust their company into the spotlight. But Dr. Joe DeSimone can. When he stepped onto the Vancouver TED Talk stage in 2015 to unveil the technology behind his digital manufacturing company, he scored “an entrepreneurial hat trick,” he says.
“The TED Talk was a pivotal moment for Carbon,” DeSimone recalls. “At the same time, the embargo was lifted on our paper in Science,” an important validation of the company’s new technology by the academic community. That same day, Carbon’s website went live, signaling it was ready for business after being in stealth mode for almost two years.
This catalytic confluence positioned Carbon to stake a leadership position in the digital manufacturing space. Powered by its breakthrough CLIP (Continuous Liquid Interface Production) technology, Carbon has ushered in a new era of digital manufacturing with 3D printers that are up to 100 times faster than traditional models.
High-strength, lightweight materials
“For years, the term ‘3D printing’ was a misnomer,” DeSimone says. “It was just printing something over and over again using the same technology as 2D printing.” And at the end of the day, the plastic produced by this time-intensive process was brittle, suitable only for prototypes and trinkets.
Carbon’s CLIP, which he also refers to as additive manufacturing, relies on the same concept envisioned by the movie Terminator 2: Judgment Day, in which a robot arises out of a puddle of liquid. Using polymer chemistry, Carbon’s technology forms a solid from a pool of liquid resin, creating high-strength, lightweight materials that can be used to manufacture products as diverse as football helmets and dental aligners.
An internationally recognized scientist in his own right, DeSimone started his career as an academic and researcher for the University of North Carolina. At UNC, he would often research and develop new products, such as biodegradable stents, that ultimately would serve as foundations for startup companies. DeSimone then would step away once a company hired a CEO. But he stayed at Carbon because he believed in its potential to transform the distribution and manufacturing sector.
Carbon’s technology enables “true production on demand,” DeSimone says. “Companies will only need to manufacture what they need.” This will support sustainable business practices, he explains, adding that many companies will no longer need to ship parts overnight or maintain warehouses.
A warehouse in the cloud
DeSimone envisions a world where cloud-based storage replaces physical warehouses, with digital records that enable exact replicas of existing products. For example, one sports manufacturer maintains a digital copy of each football helmet it produces. When players need a replacement helmet, they can order the same model, customized for their skull.
Using digital records to design products also carries tremendous implications for oral health care. Instead of having to return to the dentist for multiple fittings of an implant, a patient only needs to sit in the chair once.
“Molding and casting have their roots in 7,000-year-old technology,” DeSimone adds. “This is revolutionizing how products are made and how fast we can bring them to market.”
Recognizing that few companies would be willing to invest in expensive 3D printers to work with a young company, Carbon settled on a subscription-based pricing model to grow its install base, which is now approaching 1,000 printers. This enables Carbon and its clients to avoid future obsolescence in a field where keeping pace with new technology is vital.
On its own, 3D printing is an $8 billion market, DeSimone says, but when you include segments like injection molding, which Carbon threatens to disrupt, the opportunity multiplies to $300 billion.
Under his leadership, Carbon has forged ties with a diverse roster of industry powerhouses in a variety of sectors. In addition to football helmets and dental aligners, Carbon’s technology is now used to manufacture automotive parts, bike saddles and running shoes.
This is revolutionizing how products are made and how fast we can bring them to market.
Changing how people live
While the market opportunity is huge, DeSimone is just as focused on making sure that Carbon remains true to its purpose of inspiring real change in the world of manufacturing. He says this gives Carbon a competitive edge in the battle for talent in Silicon Valley.
DeSimone views innovation and diversity as core pillars for Carbon. In fact, he says, “Diversity is a fundamental tenet of innovation. We learn the most from those we are least familiar with in terms of culture, discipline and ethnicity.”
To that end, DeSimone is promoting greater diversity within the engineering profession. Women represented more than half of Carbon’s intern class in 2019, and he has made sure that women play a major role on Carbon’s management team and board of directors.
As Carbon pursues change within the world of engineering, DeSimone sees a future where its technology will help drive down health care costs and make vehicles more fuel-efficient. “We are a purpose-led organization,” he says, “and we really are changing the way people live.”