Until 2023, the additive manufacturing (AM) sector largely seemed like a fragmented assortment of startups—however much inclination toward consolidation there may have been prior to this year, bubbling underneath the surface. If this still hasn’t changed in reality, the perception is certainly changing quickly for reasons that are obvious to anyone who pays attention to AM’s day-to-day activity.
Yet there has always been one company that hasn’t fit the overall mold, at least since 2015, when HP created its 3D printing division. It may be that, as 3D printing hits scale-up mode, HP becomes even more important to the sector’s unfolding trajectory. Given the pace at which this landscape is starting to evolve, now is the perfect time for an update on how HP views AM in its current form. Ramon Pastor, HP’s Global Head of Metals, Personalization & 3D Printing, shared his insights with me on that topic, as well as on 3D printing’s role in the company at-large.
HP’s progress in metals is an especially critical data-point to keep an eye on, as the company has been at the forefront of commercializing metal AM since it first announced it was entering the market segment in the fall of 2018. The launch of its metal binder jetting (MBJ) platform, the Metal Jet S100, was one of the most anticipated releases in the 3D printing industry prior to its hitting the market in the fall of 2022, making Pastor’s perspective on this subject uniquely valuable.
The more that AM is taken seriously as a tool for production parts, the more that companies utilizing AM technologies will rely on informed experience, and thus on data, as one of the principal means for managing risk. HP’s almost unparalleled access to AM data — thanks to assets like the Digital Manufacturing Network — could make the critical difference for customers choosing among an increasing array of options for printed metal parts:
Of course, this is true not just about metal, but about polymer parts, as well. In fact, the data amassed here should play an even more immediate impact in shaping the commercialization of the AM sector over the next couple of years. Among other factors, the greater technical maturity of polymer parts is likely to lead to the expansion of 3D printed plastic applications for serial production sooner than is the case for metals.
In that regard, an area with particularly high potential for fast near-term growth is the commercial use of 3D printing for industrial decarbonization. As I wrote about recently, one market where HP is ahead of the curve on that front is in 3D printing the tooling for pulp fiber molds, which is already creating a real opportunity for reducing the carbon emissions associated with packaging. HP’s Sustainable Impact report highlights this as one of the big success stories of the company’s long-term net-zero goals.
As rising temperatures make it increasingly clear that climate change is not a future challenge but a present one, stakeholders across business and government have started to show willingness to embrace projects with more and more ambitious emission reduction goals. One of the keys to the success of those projects will be how effectively they can be mobilized at a moment’s notice. The most valuable technologies in this context will be those with a proven track record for being abruptly deployed into action in response to unexpected events: the technologies that have been developed and refined according to a gamut of contingencies.
This is where Pastor made what is the strongest case for 3D printing, not just as a solution for general industry, but as a weapon in HP’s own manufacturing arsenal:
Those are all advantages we can easily imagine HP drawing upon for use in its own massive supply chains. An especially important corporate strategic initiative for the company in recent years has been its pledge to manufacture higher proportions of the HP products in India that are sold in India. HP was the leader in the Indian PC market in 2022.
While Pastor didn’t mention any connection between HP’s 3D printing division and the company’s Make in India push, it seems notable that, in parallel to so many Western tech companies showing greater interest in India’s manufacturing sector, the world’s most populous nation is also accelerating its AM market. Relatedly, as I wrote about last October, AM service bureau Imaginarium became the first Indian member of HP’s Digital Manufacturing Network. As Pastor rightly notes, if you want to localize manufacturing to a specific market, AM is one of the ways to do it.
And, just as HP was quite early to the Indian market, its early adoption of 3D printing is part of the origins of what is starting to look like another broad trend amongst manufacturing giants: the incorporation of AM into production. In his conclusion of the interview, Pastor suggested that, as larger numbers of those corporate giants get on board with AM, they may simply feel most comfortable working with another established brand:
HP is equal parts a touchstone for how larger corporations are affecting the evolution of disruptive technologies, as well as for how those technologies are reciprocally affecting larger corporations. Keeping an eye on HP will continue to be vital for anyone who wants to understand both sides of that equation in the 3D printing industry.
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