There have been precious few technical details about the new Multi Jet Fusion (MJF) 3D printing technology that HP Inc. is developing and that they say will revolutionize the 3D printing industry. We know that it will be a full-color 3D printing process, is said to be up to ten times faster than current 3D printing methods, considerably cheaper than most industrial 3D printers on the market and that the process is based on their existing, high resolution 2D thermal inkjet technology. But beyond that, and a brief white paper, the company has been pretty tight-lipped about exactly how the MJF printer will work, when exactly we would see it and exactly what types of objects it will be capable of 3D printing.
Currently we know that two separate MJF thermal inkjet arrays will work together to build the full-color three-dimensional part. One array will lay down the basic building blocks and structure of the part while the second array combines the coating, color and fusing steps that will solidify and give the part the desired strength and texture. During the first pass, the first array will run left to right, while the second will run top to bottom. Then, after each layer, both arrays will change direction to maximize the coverage and productivity. HP says that this will make printing speeds up to ten times faster than selective laser sintering (SLS) and fused deposition modeling (FDM) processes without sacrificing part detail.
MJF printers will be capable of having a scalable, and potentially massive, build envelope that can range from 4.25 inches up to 40 inches wide thanks to the easily stackable inkjet arrays. However HP has not been clear about how tall the 3D printed objects can get, but it would probably be restricted depending on part curing time and the ability to produce support material. My guess, and this is just a guess, would be a maximum part height of between eight to twelve inches. But I would imagine that the lack of this information means that HP is still working on that aspect of their MJF printing process.
HP was on hand last December at the Autodesk University 2015 conference in Las Vegas primarily to focus on their new line of 2D printers. They did bring along some new printed factory samples of MJF to show off to attendees, and they revealed some interesting new information about the MJF printers and upcoming plans from their company’s new 3D printing division. They revealed that while the full-color 3D printer would probably not be available in 2016, they would be releasing a single-color 3D printer with similar but slightly less advanced technology. However HP did not release any specific details on this printer size, its pricing or the materials that it would use. They did say that it would be the first of several models of 3D printers that the company has planned for future release.
According to Design News, some of the new information gleaned from HP at the Autodesk University conference is the fact that the full-color MJF printer’s control over the properties of the 3D printing process will be done at the voxel level within 3D space. That gives them a lot more control over the material properties of the final print, especially in comparison to traditional 3D printing technologies. MJF 3D printers will be able to control the texture of the part, the level of density or strength, friction, and even be able to give parts electrical and thermal properties. According to the software strategy program manager for HP Inc.’s 3D printing business, Luis Baldez, this process is completely unique to HP’s MJF technology and they plan on developing it for several additive manufacturing platforms.
“Imagine a product that combines an injection-molded rigid material housing, another part that’s made of a rubber-like material, and another that has electronic traces. What if you could print them all in one part with multiple behaviors: soft, rigid, or electrical traces? The long-term vision for HP MJF technology is to create parts with controllably variable, even quite different, mechanical and physical properties within a single part, or among separate parts processed simultaneously in the working area. This is accomplished by controlling the interaction of the fusing and detailing agents with each other, with the material to be fused, and with additional transforming agents,” Baldez explained to Design News.
Baldez also explained that traditional 3D printing technologies often need to sacrifice resolution and surface finish for part strength, or part strength for resolution and surface finish. However with the MJF 3D printing process the printed objects will result in part quality that mimics the strength and surface finish of injection molded products. They plan to achieve this with their proprietary printing process that applies multiple binding and curing agents using the HP thermal inkjet arrays. The MJF inkjet arrays are so precise that they can selectively apply the fusing agent to the specific points on the part that need to be bonded the most, while applying a detailing agent that can either reduce or increase the fusing action to produce varied textures, finishes or part durability. The result is a speed and manufacturing versatility that other 3D printing technologies simply can’t match.
Because the HP MJF printing technology is closely related to HP’s existing 2D thermal inkjet technology the printheads have incredibly high printing resolution. The printing arrays can lay down material from 600 dpi all the way up to 2,400 dpi, which is a range of 42 microns down to to 11 microns. Because HP has been producing high-resolution 2D printers for so many years, they have plenty of experience in depositing extremely fine drops of material precisely at rapid speeds. The company actively used this experience to design the MJF technology and according to Baldez they have already developed several fully tested 3D printing printheads.
While there is still a lot more information that we need to determine exactly how good, and how disruptive, the new HP Multi Jet Fusion 3D printers will be, there is one thing that is very certain. There has never been a 3D printer that works like this, and it really could change everything if it is as good as HP says that it is. While it remains to be seen if HP can manage to turn around their last few decades of bad management and poor product development problems, at the very least they’re bringing some much needed innovation to an industry that has been relatively stagnant product-wise in the last few years. Discuss this story in the HP 3D Printing forum thread on 3DPB.com.