Next week the new, slimmer HP Inc., now fully divested of its other half, is set to see if their gamble to go all in with 3D printing was the right choice for the company. They will be discussing their Multi Jet Fusion 3D printer in Austin’s South by Southwest conference on a panel that they’re co-hosting with Shapeways for the festival’s techy crowd. While HP wouldn’t be the first company to try to sell the hip crowd on their 3D printer, the move seems a little strange because HP has made it quite clear that they aren’t interested in the 3D printing market; they are interested in the manufacturing industry.
It has been almost two years since HP announced that they were getting into the 3D printer business, and they have been uncharacteristically silent on the matter ever since. They’ve released a lot of general information about the printer, some basic tech details and shown a handful of 3D printed objects, but so far they have been quite cagey about going into details. But in an interview with Computer World, HP’s president of 3D printing Steve Nigro opened up and finally revealed more specifics details about the printer and what the company’s future plans for their new technology involves.
“First off, …we’re targeting rapid prototyping…, but we’re really looking at the production opportunities where ultimately you start doing final parts production using 3D printing — where Multi Jet Fusion will shine. We’re going to deliver something that’s reliable. That’s part of the reason it’s taking us so long to put this system together. We’re making sure it’s a robust system,” Nigro explained.
According to Nigro, the first iteration of HP’s industrial 3D printer will be slightly larger than a washing machine or an oven. It 3D prints parts ten times faster than current technology and production costs are up to 50% less. He said that an object that takes a typical FDM 3D printer 83 hours to complete or a selective laser sintering process 30 hours to complete will take the HP printer 3 hours. The final retail cost will range between $100,000 and $1,000,000. Nigro did not give any explanation for the price difference, clarify if that was simply an estimate, or if there would be different models that would offer different features.
As you would expect from one of the companies that perfected the process, the HP 3D printer technology works remarkably similarly to an inkjet printer. As with an SLS or a powder bed 3D printer, the HP lays down a very thin layer of material, in this case a plastic powder, and uses a print bar to lay down a fusing agent in a predetermined pattern. The print bar has 30,000 tiny nozzles that spray 350 million droplets of a voxel fusing agent per second on to the layer of powder. Once the first layer is printed, a new layer of powder is laid down on top, and the process continues until the 3D object is complete.
A separate fusing agent is used to coat the final part to further solidify it, bring out the details and a detailing agent is sprayed around the edges to sharpen some of the details. Future iterations of the Multi Jet Fusion printer will also be able to alter the texture, flexibility, durability, level of detail (resolution), final color and add electrical and thermal conductivity, all within the same printed object. Currently the printer uses thermoplastics, however Nigro says that they are researching the possibility of using the Multi Jet Fusion technology with a wider range of materials like ceramics and metals.
The printer has been optimized for rapid prototyping or the quick manufacturing of small runs of end use production parts. Nigro made it very clear that HP’s Multi Jet Fusion was specifically created to appeal to a wide range of markets, including the healthcare industry, aerospace, automotive or any industry that needs to be more flexible and nimble than is typically possible with traditional manufacturing processes.
Here is a video of a 3D printed chain link being used to hold up a car:
In addition to presenting their printer publically, HP has also launched a collaboration program aimed at developers and companies who want to create custom or specialized applications for the technology. They are also seeking partners to help them explore expanding the range of materials that can be used with the Jet Fusion system. HP is expected to start shipping Multi Jet Fusion 3D printers to select users soon, and they are expected to start shipping out more units by the end of the year. How do you think this will affect the 3D Printing Industry this year? Discuss in the Multi Jet Fusion 3D Printers forum over at 3DPB.com.