In a recent webinar with Design World at WTWH Media, presenter Dr. Stephen Rudisill, R&D scientist with HP Inc. 3D materials, discussed HP’s decision to enter the 3D printing industry and some of the ideas HP is considering to potentially transform manufacturing.
Noted Rudisill, during the time prior to the Industrial Revolution, you could argue that individuals had maximum control over the making of an item, from material choice (of what was available) to design. Practically everything was custom.
However, there were limitations, such as the length of time it took to produce items and the effort required.
During the Industrial Revolution, makers lost the ability to custom design. The making systems of the Industrial Revolution usually required specific tooling, which imposed restrictions of how parts were designed. Whether those parts were clothing or other objects, they forced designers to think in terms of mass production. And pretty much for the past 200 years that’s been the operating mode of how designers build the objects we interact with every day.
With mass manufacturing, the tooling has become more advanced. It’s easier to produce things, and there’s been innovation around the creation of things, whether it’s presses or looms, and so on. Production has become faster and better but there are still many design constraints.
In the world of creating manufactured objects with a 3D printer, software enables designers to create three dimensional objects and then transfer them to this specialized tooling. However, there’s still a design limitation.
Noted Rudisill, “we are on the cusp of a transformation where we can bring new manufacturing methods, like 3D printing, to bear on design limitations and increase the use of production at the same time as we increase the ‘democratization’ of design. What that means is simply the ability of any person to design an object.”
To accomplish this democratization, the software for 3D printing must be easier to use. And vendors need to increase the performance and ability of the tooling; in our case the multi-jet fusion printer system, to produce parts quickly and at appropriate cost.
Continued Rudisill, “As we move through that 3D transformation we’re hoping to generate the next Industrial Revolution, which will lead to a world without warehouses. A world in which local manufacturing in your area can be done at the same cost and scale as current mass production manufacturing technologies.”
HP developers use an analysis method that compares an analog production curve to a digital production curve. HP has used this methodology in its paper printing business. “Our WebPress technology is a digital technology that has a fixed cost per page of printed matter. However, the fixed cost, allows you to customize in each individual thing,” said Rudisill.
With 3D printing, there’s a cost per amount of media and droplet (weight). By contrast, the analog production costs include type setting molds or tasks required to obtain the production templates. Plus, there’s a big upfront cost that must be recouped through large production volumes. A margin must be determined for a specific amount of final product that a company can recoup the costs to develop the molds and the objects.
In the digital mode, costs are different because nearly every aspect is digital. “You put in your design and there’s some very small overhead associated with that. But then the printer is usually more costly to produce or to run.
“What we hope to do through technology development,” continued Rudisill, “what we have done in WebPress and what we plan on doing with multi-jet fusion is to move the curve so that our digital production methods become cheaper and more cost effective, such that we can be competitive with existing analog production techniques.”
To accomplish this will require business and technology development. “We’ll have to significantly improve the efficiency and overall throughput of our printer systems, and that’s a technology vector that we’re going to be pushing on for many years. Additionally, we have to innovate with our material partners to build plastics and polymers that are suitable for the 3D printing system at lower cost.”
HP sees the main advantage now with a digital production method like 3D printing of having the ability to produce any object you want and not being limited by the tooling or by traditional manufacturing and assembly requirements. You can make completely unique objects. You can make personalized objects, and you’re able to do that on a relatively large scale compared to what was available 20 years ago.
In terms of economics, if you pair that with the economic picture of being able to move the break even point down, you eventually have a system where rather than needing a network of transportation, you simply install printers at convenient locations.
Such an arrangement puts supply near demand. As orders come in, they are filled on the spot with a known lead time and minimal to no shipping expenses. “Additionally, there’s no set up or mold building for any sort of object. You simply have a design that is available. You plug it into the printer and you print the object.”
For HP, additive manufacturing is an extension of its existing business efforts.