Materials science represents a strong backbone to the development of successful 3D printing technology, especially for those systems stepping away from more traditional SLS and other longer-established powder-based systems, and it is with this in mind that HP Inc. has been working with materials partners since the inception of their Multi Jet Fusion 3D printing system. The open materials platform on the MJF system kicked off with four initial partners — Evonik, BASF, Arkema, and Lehman & Voss — and the company is hoping to bring many more into the fold. As 3DPrint.com saw last week at HP Corvallis, materials science is sharply in focus with particular aim toward smoothing the way toward commercialization.
Steps toward commercializing additional materials for HP’s open platform system are cohering into a more formalized structure that is designed to be especially partner-friendly. ‘Open platform’ in this case does not, of course, mean that you can throw any sort of powder into the MJF system and expect to have perfectly 3D printed parts emerge; rather, materials options include HP-branded powder (which they note provides optimal output quality) and HP-certified powder (“certified for safety and reliability of the HW”), while ‘any powder’ is designated as a big no-no, to put it in technical terms. To ensure that materials function correctly, their physical properties must be fully vetted and tested in a thorough process — and this need lies at the heart of the introduction of the new Material Development Kit (MDK) designed by HP in collaboration with SigmaDesign, in an industry first and in what now represents the first step in the materials certification process.The MDK, a highly portable system, “enables suppliers to successfully advance new powder materials for HP Jet Fusion 3D Printers,” as it “facilitates early screening of powder material targeted for certification under the HP Multi Jet Fusion Open Platform.” As Fabio Annunziata, Director of Business Development and 3D Materials, HP Inc., told us at HP Corvallis last week, the MDK “is the foundation of our open material approach and it’s just one of the tools we’re going to release over time,” as HP is is “allowing our partners to innovate.”
“SigmaDesign is officially part of our open design ecosystem,” Annunziata explained at the event. “We’ll be the provider of these material development kit for developing powers for Multi Jet Fusion; this is just the first step, you will see the steps that make powders qualified. There are four main steps. This development kit addresses the first step. Companies will be able to acquire these, do most of the development cycle on their own, then come to us for final certification. We want to lower the bar here for everyone to develop products for our platform.”
Available at the pre-order price of $24,150, the MDK represents the first step on the path to HP-certified materials development, and the only step that can now be performed at a partner’s site rather than in an HP lab. On a tour of the HP 3D Open Materials and Innovations Lab, I watched all four steps in action, starting with the MDK, which HP R&D engineer Mike Monroe demonstrated.
The MDK is a spreadability test for thin layers, Monroe said, allowing for quantifiable numbers on how much powder makes it into pockets at variable thickness depths — of 100, 200, 500, and 1000 um depths — in temperature ranges close to actual processing (up to 150°C). The plastic parts of the MDK were 3D printed on the Jet Fusion 3D 4200 system.
As the first step in the system, the MDK requires only a small amount of powder as the material is expected to still be fairly early in development at this stage. Each progressive step in the certification process requires larger quantities of material as it gets closer to the final formula. Monroe additionally demonstrated the build unit tester, in which he set sequences on a stripped unit to verify the powder spread, which requires larger volumes of powder to see how it behaves, running each subsystem individually and then together to validate the delivery rate of material required for the MJF process. Following this step, all subsequent research into materials for use on HP 3D printing systems must be done in-house at an HP lab.
“If we can’t spread thin layers, we’re limited in what else we can do,” Monroe told us of the importance of consistent layering capabilities.
SigmaDesigns’ Ben Mergen and Bill Huseby were on hand in Corvallis last week to discuss their work with HP. Senior Engineering Manager Mergen explained that the company was one of the first customers for the 4200, having taken delivery in February and were so excited about the prospect that they held a ribbon cutting ceremony in March — using scissors 3D printed on their 4200 to cut the ribbon. He explained that over the last year or so they have been helping with the MDK, which will be available for shipping at the end of May; Huseby noted that the first MDK unit delivery is slated to take place on May 22nd.
For his part, President and CEO Huseby spoke to us about the potential for evolving product design using the HP Jet Fusion 3D printer. Design for the additive process allows for savings in costs and in production time, which Huseby highlighted through a few case studies in which SigmaDesign has benefited specifically from use of the HP 3D printing system; he and Mergen noted that while the company had previously worked with SLS 3D printed parts, they experienced problems with those parts breaking that they have not encountered with MJF-made components. Further, a vacuum fitting produced for a fruit labeling machine required 878 parts made on the HP Jet Fusion system to create 63 units for a packing factory — a move that saved $32,000, which, Huseby noted, “for a company that’s relatively small, 180 people — $32,000 is a lot of money.”
“We saw ourselves as the perfect customer,” Mergen said of their work with HP. “We didn’t get the first system, but one of the first, especially on the west coast. 3D printing is something we use anyway. We saw how important it was to bring this to our customers and help them to adopt the technology. … I’ve been thinking about HP as the Uber of the 3D printing market. Uber came in and turned the ride-for-hire market on its head. HP came into the market… if 3D Systems and Stratasys aren’t getting nervous, they should be. They’re working with us to develop this toolkit to help more manufacturers bring more materials to market. That to me is a really cool concept. 3D printing is really starting to take off, younger engineers all with a 3D printer at their desk, you’re going to get a crop of engineers coming out not bound by the rules we were. The fact that HP is willing to open their kimono a little bit and help others come in and embrace their technology — to me that’s very exciting.”
“HP is leading the evolution of 3D printing from prototyping to production and SigmaDesign understands how important each step of the manufacturing process is in this journey. Materials are at the center of successful manufacturing, and the combination of HP’s open platform and the ability to enable voxel-level control will help expedite the digital transformation of this multi-trillion dollar market,” Huseby said. “Many companies, both large and small, do not have the internal capabilities to execute their 3D printing vision as quickly or as broadly as they’d like. We are proud to provide world-class foundational tools such as the MDK and in-depth design expertise for organizations ready to innovate using HP Multi Jet Fusion technology right now.”
HP is highlighting the MDK and other materials innovations this week at AMUG. Stay tuned for additional coverage of materials innovations from HP and its partners as we heard directly from the companies involved! Discuss in the MDK forum at 3DPB.com.