Raise 3D

HP Inc. has been focused in a big way on the 3D printing industry, and the global company hasn’t exactly been playing it subtle. Catching up in the last week with HP and global solutions provider Jabil, a longstanding foundational partner, it’s clearer than ever that Multi Jet Fusion (MJF) won’t be backing down from global positioning. At formnext in Frankfurt, HP was showing off its Jet Fusion 3D printing solutions, including machines, materials, partners, and a slew of case studies. I met with some familiar faces at the show, catching up with HP’s Scott Schiller, Global Head of Customer and Market Development, 3D Printing, and Jabil’s John Dulchinos, Vice President, Global Automation and 3D Printing.

“It’s a great story,” Dulchinos said in welcome: “The printer that prints itself.”

From the beginning, one of the key use cases demonstrating the viability of MJF processes has been that around half of the discrete parts in a given 3D printer were 3D printed. As we’ve recently heard, the 3D printer is also 3D printing parts for HP’s 2D printers – specifically the desktop Envy printers that will be stationed on the International Space Station. With 3D printed parts suited for use in the production environment of an additive manufacturing system as well as in zero gravity, HP is keen to show off real-world (and out-of-this-world) viability.

“Multi Jet Fusion is changing the economics for making parts,” Dulchinos continued. “We’ve moved the print counts that made it make sense to print the parts that go into MJF; this intersects with volumes of MJF going into the market.”

HP, as it continues to focus on industrializing its process, has been highlighting the economics possible as it continues to develop MJF 3D printing technology. Ahead of formnext with the introduction of the new Jet Fusion 4210 3D printing system, HP announced a new break-even point possible as 3D printing works toward the feasibility of taking on scale production. It’s this feasibility, more than the specific systems, that the company and its partners are ultimately highlighting.

“We can’t have the people making the printers influence the people in the supply chain,” Schiller said. “Everything we do has to make sense from an economic point of view.”

Dulchinos continued from there, noting that, “Supply chain guys don’t care about the technology; they care about what makes sense. This required a whole new way of ensuring that parts meet standards, that tolerances stack up. As amazing as 3D printing is, it’s not injection molding. It’s taken a lot of work to go through the process to bring this to market. We can now collapse geometries into single 3D printed geometries, complete with threaded holes and functional brackets. Then it makes sense to do these geometries.”

As HP engineers have explained, specific means of design for additive manufacturing (DfAM) allow for the creation of optimized parts in optimized build units.

“We’re barely beginning, when we look at the potential,” Schiller told me. “This is a rolling snowball, getting larger as it rolls. Now the machine is moving well over 100 parts, collapsing these to simpler, single parts – and engineers are wrapping their heads around that; it really snowballs. I’ll be really excited to see this in 10 years.”

Dulchinos highlighted the capabilities from Jabil’s point of view, as just in time (JIT) manufacturing becomes easier than ever – and more local than ever. While Jabil has been using these batch methods in their San Jose office, the printers themselves are made in Singapore. They are able to collapse the supply chain, he noted, co-locating printing with manufacturing to create a real JIT process.

At the HP booth at formnext, the company was displaying a caged build set as all the parts required for one build were printed in one job, rather than in the piece-by-piece batch production model familiar from traditional injection molding (note that the lattice structure was for show only to demonstrate the batch view; such extra structures are not required).

“Engineers have shifted their thinking to families of parts,” Schiller said, gesturing at the caged build job. “It’s not, ‘10,000 of this,’ ‘60,000 of this,’ but families of parts caged together. This is real flexible capital.”

Compared with the sequential build familiar from injection molding, in which one mold at a time is used to create one part at a time (albeit 10,000 or 60,000 of each of these parts), 3D printing on a job-by-job basis allows for all parts to be made for each job in one batch.

“We would have to mold in sequential volume; this lets us build 20 families of parts rather than one bit at a time,” Dulchinos said. “At our Singapore facility, we put machines down, and then ship files over the ocean to bring them there. This is real digital distributed manufacturing; we move production back and forth by sending files – we move production where the demand is.”

At Jabil’s Blue Sky Center in San Jose, I recently saw the company’s global logistics operations; they keep a close eye on manufacturing centers and conditions around the world at all times, ensuring that the appropriate facilities are used for the best way of producing parts. The ease of movement that digital manufacturing allows for, and the flexibility afforded by locating production wherever the printer is, allows Jabil to leverage its facilities to best benefit.

The production paradigm is a complete picture, of course, reliant not only on locations or batches – but by what is in those batches. Specifically, the materials made into these parts. HP has been operating on a large-scale open materials development platform, working with big names in materials science including Evonik and BASF, and as more materials make their way to market – including the four newest materials recently announced – capabilities and collaborations will continue to progress.

“Expansion of materials will continue to gain steam,” Schiller told me. “Industry has pulled us into manufacturing. We had thought our start would be in rapid prototyping, but that’s not what they want from us; so we are working on full manufacturing capabilities.”

Along with that response to what the market wants is the big question mark hanging over HP lately – metal? The company recently announced formal intent to enter into the metals arena, the latest big-name entrant into the fastest-growing segment of the additive manufacturing industry, but has not yet named any specifics to this entry. What they will say, though, is that this is a new process; it’s not MJF, it’s not SLM, it’s not DMLS.

“The big deal is to not replicate what’s on the market,” Schiller told me. “Stay tuned in 2018.”

Jabil sees the promise of this new process announcement, and understands the demand for metal technologies.

“Walk through this show. There’s a lot of metal here,” Dulchinos said, gesturing to the crowded hall.

“For HP to not do a me-too solution is a big statement.”

While some of what we discussed isn’t ready yet for publication, for the most part HP is playing it very close to the vest with the specifics of their entry into metal. The company, no stranger to pre-announcing intent ahead of technical aspects or a full go-to-market timeline, will play out its hand in its own good time, working closely with its large network of collaborative partners and through its global technology centers.

“What we do will be really well aligned with our strategy,” Schiller would say on the record. “When we share, we want to know it all. We intend to be a leader in the space, and that will be decades. If we participate in a sector, there need to be disruptive elements.”

HP is in this for the long term. The company’s 3D printing business has not yet reached profitability, but remains a major area of focus for the years – the decades – to come. The company is, as ever, talking a big game, but if anyone has the resources to back up big talk, it’s HP.

You can learn more about how Jabil is working with HP to print the printer in this video:

Discuss formnext 2017, and other 3D printing topics, at 3DPrintBoard.com or share your thoughts in the Facebook comments below.

[All photos: Sarah Goehrke]

 

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