Carbon’s Buckingham: 3-D Printing ‘Changing the World for Millions’

Carbon’s Buckingham: 3-D Printing ‘Changing the World for Millions’

Posted on 12/20/2017

When Valerie Buckingham graduated from art school, she was less than enthused by the prospect of her future work ending up only in a museum or gallery, where it might touch only hundreds, perhaps thousands of people.

“I wanted to catapult myself right into the middle of the digital revolution,” she recalls. “I wanted to be part of the technologies that are changing the world for millions, even billions, of people.”

Buckingham has found that canvas at 3-D printing technology company Carbon, where as VP of marketing she is building a brand and telling stories at the intersections of hardware and software, custom design and mass manufacturing. “For me, technology comes to life in its most real way when you can see it impacting the physical world, impacting the stuff that human beings use every single day,” she says.

Mass Customization

In a compelling presentation captured in the video below, Buckingham describes how Silicon Valley’s Carbon, and 3-D printing broadly, are poised to transform the manufacturing industry, as well as customers’ experiences with a wide range of products, by delivering on the promise of “mass customization.”

Carbon’s 3-D printers use a unique process that mixes light and oxygen with programmable liquid resins to produce components and finished products that were once inconceivable using conventional manufacturing methods. For example, Adidas, one of Carbon’s marquee customers, used Carbon’s process to iterate more than 50 different lattices for the midsole of its 3-D printed Futurecraft 4D athletic footwear before settling on the current design.

Adidas plans to produce 5,000 pairs of the Futurecraft 4D shoes for sale this year and more than 100,000 by the end of 2018. Eventually, the vision is for ‘bespoke’ shoes, where customers at its retail stores, perhaps after a brief run on a treadmill or a digital experience, would be able to order a pair customized for their running styles, the exact contours of their feet, and the pressure points generated by their body weight. “The idea that you can start to make adjustments to a design and a released physical product based on real-time feedback in the field—that’s a completely new concept in the world of physical product design,” Buckingham says.

What’s more, because a product essentially becomes a digital file a manufacturer can send to any number of 3-D printing facilities worldwide, the means of production aren’t dependent on inflexible manufacturing plants and processes. As such, 3-D printing will reduce manufacturers’ time to market, shipping costs, and environmental impact, she says.

Currently, manufacturers and their retail customers can make only educated, data-informed estimates of how much product they need to produce and carry in inventory.

“Obviously, it would be amazing if you could just produce physical objects at the point of need when they are required,” Buckingham says. “It seems like science fiction—something we really wish we could do—but we at Carbon have customers today that are building on-demand manufacturing processes and systems for their customers.”

Artful Advances

Carbon, which is standardizing its own manufacturing, supply chain, finance and other processes on Oracle Cloud services, likes to talk about ‘provenance,’ an art term, as it pertains to the history of a given object. Smart, connected production equipment with embedded sensors collects millions of data points, which manufacturers can analyze to improve their processes and products. In the future, this “digital thread” will also inform product recalls, Buckingham says, as manufacturers identify the individual robot or person, machine-software version, temperature condition and/or other variable involved in the production of a faulty part.

“Today with conventional manufacturing, when you’re designing something and making something, it’s a standard method: You make a design, then you make a model or prototype, then you get it right and drop everything and go over to the system you’re going to produce it on, and you scale it up in mass manufacturing,” Buckingham explains. “Those things are disconnected. With Carbon’s technology and with this new class of 3-D printing for mass manufacturing, the difference is that you’re designing on the actual means of production. This means you can have so many more iterations of your product.”

We encourage you to view the embedded 29-minute video for Buckingham’s deeper view into Carbon’s and its customers’ extraordinary work. And please visit Oracle’s Experience Inspiration page for inspiring video-recorded presentations by other business and technology leaders.

Story featured inThe Wall Street Journal By Rob Preston

Rob Preston is editorial director in Oracle’s Content Central organization.