Additive Manufacturing Strategies

Forecast 3D to Begin Offering HP’s Multi Jet Fusion 3D Printing Technology to Customers; Materialise Reports on the MJF’s Development

ST Medical Devices

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We’ve been excited about the Multi Jet Fusion 3D printing system from HP Inc. ever since we first heard about the idea back in 2014 and first saw the system last year. We’re not the only ones, and one of the aspects that has made the development of the MJF system so exciting is its open nature. HP announced from the outset that they were planning to collaborate with multiple companies in the 3D printing industry on the continued development of the printer and its materials, and we’ve been hearing quite a bit from those collaborative partners and from industry experts lately.

“I like HP’s approach to certifying materials for use on its systems. 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,” industry expert Terry Wohlers told 3DPrint.com following the latest news from HP Corvallis.

Last week, we talked to HP and materials development partner SigmaDesign about their new Materials Development Kit (MDK), and now Materialise has opened up about the testing they’ve been doing on the MJF 3D printer. In November, the company announced that they were at the front of the line to receive one of the first Multi Jet Fusion systems to be released. Fast forward to now, and the company has had some time to play around with the machine – and they’re pretty thrilled with it, from what they’ve reported.

“When I saw the machine first at formnext, in November 2016, I was quite impressed already because of its compactness and neatness. I’m used to large-scale industrial printers that don’t really prioritize a tidy look, so it was a nice surprise,” said Materialise engineer Giovanni Vleminckx. “Now that I’ve had the chance to work together with HP on testing, I’m excited to have early access to the technology and help identify areas of future development.

The machine scores high on usability and reliability. It’s only been a few weeks of testing but I feel confident leaving the machine to its own devices. It doesn’t need constant monitoring once the build is in progress.”

Giovanni Vleminckx with the MJF printer

Right now, the material that Materialise is using in the powder bed machine is PA 12 polyamide.

“The material has a very fine powder grain, enabling the production of very thin layers of 80 microns,” continued Vleminckx. “That means the same material leads to high-density parts with lower porosity than it would with thicker layers. The fine grain of the powder would be especially suitable for detailed features and high-complexity parts. The surface finish is quite fine even without post-production finishing, and I can imagine that functional parts in the future may not need additional smoothing. Straight out of the machine, parts are a stone-grey color that takes well to color dyeing.”

In addition to working with Materialise Manufacturing on the printer itself, HP has been working with Materialise Software to develop one of their customized Build Processor programs for the system. Materialise has created Build Processor programs for numerous 3D printer manufacturers, linking their hardware to the Materialise software for a smoother, more effective 3D printing process. The HP Build Processor, Vleminckx explains, lets the user assign a machine-specific build style to the platform, as well as easily slicing and exporting data directly to the machine.

HP and Materialise have tested several parts, each assigned a specific “control factor.” A single-build hinge was used to test dimensional accuracy, while a textured sample assessed surface quality. They also printed identical parts with different build orientations to test build uniformity. According to Vleminckx, the tests have led to decisions to expand the optimal area of the build platform and work together on improving dimensional accuracy.

While Materialise continues to test and work on improving the MJF system, another service bureau is about to begin bringing parts printed with the system directly to the public. Forecast 3D is among the first companies to offer the technology as one of their services, bringing the total of fabrication technologies they offer to nine. The San Diego service bureau is one of the original members of the so-called “HP Founders Club,” so they’re ready and excited to be the first to bring Multi Jet Fusion to the public.

“We’ve been working closely with HP for nearly three years now – it’s been rewarding to have been part of the process with the HP team and we are elated to finally have the day arrive,” Forecast 3D co-founder and COO Donovan Weber told 3DPrint.com. “Our philosophy has always been to be the independent additive service provider that offers all of the relevant technologies and materials, and the addition of HP’s MJF technology is a continuation of that philosophy.”

Forecast 3D will be receiving two HP Jet Fusion 3D 4200 machines on March 31, and they plan to begin offering the service in early April. The company is anticipating a high demand for the MJF service, unsurprisingly – I expect everyone is going to want to see what MJF can do for themselves. We’ve been told a lot about the technology and its ability to print strong, complex, production-ready parts up to 10 times faster than SLS printers, but it’s one thing to hear about what a new technology can do and quite another to see it for yourself.

“The speed of the machines and the future availability of other materials help 3D printing to become a viable manufacturing process with a quick turn-around time,” general manager Larry Tinker told us.

Forecast 3D will be offering PA 12 to start, but there will be plenty of other materials to come – that’s yet another one of the beauties of the MJF system. As we learned on our tour of HP’s Open Materials Lab last week, the company’s materials development is moving along steadily, and the introduction of the Materials Development Kit means that we can expect a lot of new materials coming from HP and their partners sooner rather than later.

“We’ll be the provider of these material development kit for developing powers for Multi Jet Fusion…Companies will be able to acquire these, do most of the development cycle on their own, then come to us for final certification,” Fabio Annunziata, HP Inc.’s DIrector of Business Development and 3D Materials, explained at HP Corvallis last week. “We want to lower the bar here for everyone to develop products for our platform.”

In the meantime, as Materialise’s testing has shown, PA 12 is doing just fine at creating strong, detailed, complex parts, so Forecast 3D customers should be plenty excited already. You can request a quote here. Discuss in the MJF forum at 3DPB.com.

[Images: Materialise]

 

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