Materials development is critical to the progress of additive manufacturing, and while HP Inc. may be relatively new to scalable participation in the 3D printing industry, they are by no means strangers to the path to successful product development. When the company unveiled their highly anticipated Multi Jet Fusion 3D printing system last year, one of the biggest surprises to many in the industry was the fact that HP was introducing an open materials platform, in a polar switch from their proprietary stance in 2D printing with branded inks.
“I can tell you, that whole open materials, open platform? It would have been very easy to do what we have done in our current business. It was kind of interesting. That decision was made maybe a week before our announcement in October ,” Stephen Nigro, President of HP Inc.’s 3D Printing Business, told me at HP Barcelona last year of their new approach. “We were on a phone call getting ready and I’m like, ‘Guys, we’re going open’. They said, ‘Ahh, no, what, Steve, why’ and I told them, ‘The world’s open, the world’s open. If we’re building a business for the next 10 years, 15 years, 20 years, we better be open.’ We can’t build our business like we have in the past. If you’re going to be leading, going to be thinking, you have to really understand how the world works versus how it worked.”
HP has been enthusiastic and audible in their lauding of the collaborative efforts behind the development of the entire MJF system, frequently highlighting the partnerships leveraged behind each step of the process. At HP Corvallis last week, 3DPrint.com had the opportunity to see first-hand the dedication to materials development and the seriousness with which HP is approaching materials development on their open platform.
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, including with today’s industry-first introduction of the Material Development Kit (MDK) created in collaboration with SigmaDesign. Industry experts seem optimistic about this structure; I talked with Terry Wohlers following the recent spate of HP announcements about the company’s take on open materials development for their platform.
“I like HP’s approach to certifying materials for use on its systems,” Wohlers told me. “It makes a lot of sense for employees of a material producer to be on-site in Corvallis, along side of HP experts, to work through the detailed process. I hope that tens of material producers are in a queue to certify their materials. More materials mean increased competition and lower prices for customers.”
HP sees itself as leading the charge in the next industrial revolution, a mission they do not take lightly. Indeed, the company says it is accelerating the digital reinvention of the manufacturing industry as we move into the lauded fourth industrial revolution, which focuses on digital manufacturing and smart production. Divulged last week at HP Corvallis, in addition to a look inside the 3D Open Materials and Innovation Lab and a first glimpse of the just-unveiled MDK and certification system, was a deeper examination of HP’s commitment to and work with highlighted partners. On site in Corvallis were representatives from BASF and Evonik to discuss their work with materials for HP’s 3D printing ecosystem.
As came up several times, the ‘open platform’ at play here is not open to the point of willy-nilly materials acceptance, and even chemical giants like Evonik and BASF, which have previously introduced materials for additive manufacturing systems, had some serious work to do to create materials suitable for HP’s unique MJF technology. The fact that HP now has a clear step-by-step path toward material certification, from MDK to HP materials certification lab, will only help the development process as it continues and more materials partners take advantage of the workflow to create, test, fine tune, and commercialize powders for production.
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, as one of the first dozen non-HP or -partner visitors to the site, I watched all four steps in action, starting with the MDK. HP R&D engineer Mike Monroe demonstrated the MDK, which 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. Moving through the additional stations in the lab, materials scientist Dr. Anthony Holden demonstrated the HP MJF Process Test Bed to answer the question, “Now we can move it, how do we fuse it?” From there, 3D printing technician Brian Dooley, 3D printing engineer Michele Friesen, and technology development engineer Ken Vandenberghe showed my small tour group the process on the 4200 and processing station. At the fourth station for metrology and powder characterization, we met senior materials scientist Dr. Greg Long, who noted that the metrology development team function as “the eyes and the ears of materials and final products” to understand the starting attributes and how to design for success. Dr. Long noted that they need to understand particle size and shape distribution, thermal behavior, and how the powder responds, in order to get to three primary characteristics: mechanical strength, dimensional accuracy, and cosmetics (look and feel). Materials currently are designed to meet ASTM injection molding standards.Finally, we met engineers Karsten Wilson and Dan Brown, and technician Travis Cox, at the fifth station, for the HP Multi Jet Fusion Future Multi-Agent Voxel Test Bed to learn more about next-generation developments. The test bed can print almost twice as fast as can current MJF technology, using eight fluids to change out and put onto materials for voxel-level control of properties such as color, flexibility, embedded electronics, and variable durometer elastomers; the difference in these, they said, is in fluids here. The work done on the test bed is not intended as a direct look into what HP will be commercializing next, but rather as laboratory exploration of what might be possible.
As work in the lab and among partners continues apace, the team at HP is optimistic about the expansion opportunities of the open platform — and the number of partners the company hopes to work with as development continues and the industry grows.
“We are starting with four partners, talking with probably another 50, taking one stage at a time,” Dr. Tim Weber, Global Head of 3D Materials and Advanced Applications and General Manager of the Corvallis site, told us. “You can imagine in the future it being very, very broad; focusing on materials companies; how to bring this even broader. The key is that we want to scale it. It won’t be thousands by the end of the year, we want to build this as we build our business.”
“The vision is to have hundreds of materials on the platform,” Fabio Annunziata, Director of HP 3D Materials, confirmed.
“If people have material ideas, we want to talk to them,” Dr. Mike Regan, HP’s Director of 3D Materials and Advanced Applications, added.
As HP continues to underscore the importance of partners throughout the development of their MJF technology — including the presence in Corvallis of Evonik‘s Sylvia Monsheimer, Global Business Director, HP-Additive Manufacturing, and BASF Market Development Manager – Additive Manufacturing Kara Noack, representing two companies which have already been working toward the development of viable materials for the MJF system — enhancing the process flow in such ways can only benefit everyone involved, from HP and its partners to customers down the line using this technology.
“I’ll just say that we’re really excited and pleased to be in this collaboration with HP,” said Noack, who 3DPrint.com last heard from at RAPID last May regarding BASF’s collaboration with HP. “We have a few common goals together, one of them being the open materials platform. In order for additive manufacturing to really take off and us to be successful at it, we need to participate in open platforms, good synergy with HP. BASF wasn’t terribly interested in 3D printing when talking prototypes, making cool Yoda heads for your desktop; we’re really interested in taking it from prototype stage to production-level, we share that in common with HP as well.”
She continued, “Each party is bringing something special, HP is bringing their expertise in the process and the agents; companies like BASF are really experts in plastic materials. In end applications we’re entrenched in traditional applications for engineering platforms, we understand what customers want and we’ve been formulating to what they want, now we’re applying that know-how in additive manufacturing as well. We understand what they’re looking for specific to 3D printing. We’re collaborating with HP to make sure our materials are working well with their systems. We thought our TPU materials for AM would be a drop-in fit for MJF, but it wasn’t. …Having access to… the HP side so we progressively improve upon performance has been a great experience. I think it’s important to make things happen a lot faster when you have that openness. If I do this to the powder, what happens to the ultimate part? Openness helps things go quickly in our development process, I think that’s critical to the growth of additive manufacturing, more materials and better materials in the market.”
We heard as well about how Evonik has been using its long history in materials, as Monsheimer explained that the company has been working for a long time with additive manufacturing; she herself has been with Evonik for 29 years, and working with 3D printing for 19 years now, starting “nearly at zero” on that count.
“We set up equipment to work on all the knowledge we have today, all the powder-based processes and how to tweak the powder to come to the best parts,” she told us. “That’s what we are doing and that’s what we are proud of. We are talking to customers, people who want to build parts and use them in their whatever-it-is. They always want changes, complain about certain things; one was reliability and repeatability of the processes. Boeing, BMW mentioned this as a request. This is what I expect from Hewlett Packard as a player as an opportunity. Direct access to the material manufacturers and a broader material portfolio. This is the first time this has been addressed in a proper way, through this open platform. This is something that solves problems, why I think the open platform will change things and be something absolutely historical.”
Touching on the importance of collaboration, Monsheimer continued, “Additive manufacturing cannot be grown into serious production by one material company or one machine company. Each application has its own requirements and people have to work to fulfill them, have to work to make this happen, that we can use additive manufacturing for any certain application. It’s not a big bang and suddenly we use AM everywhere in production, it’s a puzzle piece, it’s step by step. If a company wants to start serious production they need a kind of safety, they don’t need a machine supplier and a material supplier that do not work together, this is something that has changed with the open material platform that’s different from the past.”
“Seeing the lab today shows how to speed the development process. It’s a success story from my point of view so far.”
Evonik, which in October announced plans to commercialize VESTOSINT 3D Z2773, today is sharing specifics regarding the upcoming availability of this PA-12 powder material. Dr. Matthias Kottenhahn, Head of the Business Line High Performance Polymers of Evonik, said:
“In October, we announced successful certification of VESTOSINT 3D Z2773, and we are now excited to confirm initial availability in May with the full commercial offering available for our customers shortly thereafter. In only six months, leveraging the HP Open Materials and Applications Lab, our team has been able to develop, certify and begin selling an innovative new material with significant property advantages. Our collective efforts to reconstruct the way we go about 3D materials development is founded in HP’s investment into its open platform, tools such as the MDK and the 3D Open Materials and Applications Lab. The open approach to materials and applications of HP opens a bright future for our industry.”
As we look toward actualized commercialization of these materials, and many more to come, all involved in these collaborative efforts remain optimistic about the process and the results it is hoped to produce. As more companies become involved in the production of materials, there is no loser, as the market adjusts to the fluctuations brought on by additional participants and, ultimately, users of the technology are set to benefit substantially.
Noack summed up her thoughts on these developments well:
“At BASF we feel an open materials market is the only way for additive manufacturing to really explode,” she told us. “I think we’re headed toward this perfect storm. Open materials aspect to be able to bring about more materials, better materials, faster materials to market, processes like MJF that can make things faster… part of that perfect storm is end user learning to design for this, understand what hardware and materials are available. Really putting a strong effort in 3D printing and our place in the market, we believe that’s where it’s going, digitization, customization.”
Of course all of these innovations are also to be taken in stride with other work from HP, such as future voxel-level control to produce varied colors, textures, elasticity, and more in parts, as well as additional materials capabilities such as ceramic materials and work toward embedded electronics and more. Phew. HP is hard at work on constant development and the push toward commercialization as well as next-gen capabilities in the pipeline. The company is leveraging decades of experience and leadership in the 2D printing space toward their work in 3D; after all, a company like HP didn’t enter the race expecting to finish last.
There’s more to come from my time at HP Corvallis, as we continue to look inside HP’s operations and what their work means for the industry; stay tuned for 3DPrint.com for all the latest right from the source! Discuss in the HP forum at 3DPB.com.
[Photos: Sarah Goehrke for 3DPrint.com / Slides: HP]