It has arrived–HP Inc.,’s long awaited actual entrance into the 3D printing industry. At the 2016 RAPID Conference, HP unveiled one of two 3D printers it will offer as well as its ideas of how 3D printing needs to evolve.
HP set out to tackle several “limitations” of todays’ 3D printers: build speed and cost, 3D printing process flow, the proprietary aspect of many of today’s systems, 3d printing software, and range of materials.
According to Alex Monino, WW Marketing and Sales Strategy Director, HP 3D printers, HP’s Jet Fusion 3D Printing Solution revolutionizes design, prototyping and manufacturing, and for the first time, “delivers superior quality physical parts up to 10 times faster and at half the cost of current 3D printing systems.”
A system rather than a printer
The printer system consists of three parts: the HP Jet Fusion 3D Processing Station, HP Jet Fusion 3D Build Unit, and the printer. The processing station mixes build materials into the Build Unit before it is inserted into the printing section. The processing station is essentially a material management system. You can obtain additional Build Units for a more continuous printing process, simply switching them out when one is emptied of its material load.
The HP Jet Fusion 3D 3200 Printer is for prototyping “with the capacity to grow usage at a lower cost per part.” The HP Jet Fusion 3D 4200 Printer is for prototyping and short-run manufacturing needs.
A synchronized set of tools includes intuitive software, the HP Jet Fusion 3D Processing Station with Fast Cooling (scheduled for release in 2017), and high-quality materials.
Build speed and cost
A key question is how did HP arrive at the speed and cost figures?
The speed is based on internal testing and simulation. HP tested its printer against extrusion and selective laser sintering (SLS) printers ranging in price from $100,000 to $300,000.
The development team tested for the number of parts that could be printed simultaneously. The part size was 30 g with a layer thickness of 0.1 mm/0.004 in.
The speed calculation includes part cool down time, so the team used a feature, Fast Cooling, (that won’t be available until 2017 on the HP Jet Fusion 3D Processing Station) to accelerate part cooling. The cooling comparison applies to the SLS printers, not the extrusion machines. According to their tests, the HP printer printed “one full bucket of parts at 20% of packing density versus the same number of parts on competitive devices.” As mentioned earlier, continuous printing requires a second HP Jet Fusion 3D Build Unit.
The price of this system is based on internal testing and public data. HP claims the prices of comparable extrusion and SLS printers are $100,000 to $300,000.
The HP 3200 Printer starts sort of in the middle of this range at $130,000. For the full end-to-end solution (HP Jet Fusion 3D 3200 Printer and Processing Station), the price starts at $155,000. This printer will be available sometime in 2017.
No price was given for the HP Jet Fusion 3D 4200 Printer, which will be available in late 2016, probably in October. However, it was mentioned that depending on the configuration, the price will be in the low $200,000 range.
HP claims the average printing cost-per-part of its system is half the cost of the comparable extrusion and SLS printers selling for $100,000 to $300,000 on the market as of April 2016.
The cost analysis was based on standard solution configuration price, supplies price, and maintenance costs recommended by manufacturer, and printing 1-2 buckets per day/ 5 days per week over 1 year of 30 gram parts at 10% packing density using the powder reusability ratio recommended by the manufacturer. Depending on part size, Monino says the printer can print up to 100,000 parts efficiently.
HP’s printers will be able to reuse up to 80% of the powder in the Build Unit.
Initially, the printers will work with plastic materials. The process is this: a layer of plastic powder is rolled onto the build bed. The powder is kept at a high temperature to speed the print process when it actually begins. At least two chemical agents are sprayed onto the layer in the build pattern. One agent absorbs the heat needed to sinter the plastic powder. The other agent stops the heat absorption process to ensure sharp part details. It takes about a light second to cure the exposed area.
Monino stressed that this system is neither binder nor material jetting, that is it is not spraying glue or glue like substances to adhere the powder, nor is it jetting material layer by layer to build a part.
This is a sintering process that uses heat to fuse or compact the powder into a solid shape, without liquefying the powder. The chemical agents control the heat process. (EOS and SLM Systems have 3D printers that sinter plastic powder as well.)
“Our 3D printing platform addresses over 340 million voxels per second, giving our prototyping and manufacturing partners faster build speeds, functional parts and breakthrough economics,” said Stephen Nigro, president of HP’s 3D printing business.
Streamlining 3D printing flow
As you can see from the graphic, HP has altered the typical 3D printing workflow. The goal is to streamline the entire print and finishing processes and reduce material handling steps.
Open source 3D printing
HP has not developed its new printers alone. It has sought input and support from manufacturers and collaboration partners including Nike, BMW, Johnson & Johnson, Jabil, Siemens, Materialise, Shapeways, Autodesk, and Protolabs.
“BMW is a pioneer and early adopter of innovative technologies in the field of additive manufacturing,” says Jens Ertel, Head of BMW Group Additive Manufacturing Center, “especially for prototyping in concept cars and series-like approval builds. For our future roadmap toward serial part production and personal customization, we see major potential in our partnership with HP to investigate this new kind of 3D printing technology at an early stage. As one of the first partners, we had the chance to see the evolution of the machines over time from the first prototype approximately five years ago to the market ready product that is available now.”
In addition, HP is promoting an open-platform and certified partners will collaborate for materials innovation as well as new applications for its printer. The goal is to continue to reduce 3D printing costs and facilitate faster industry adoption of 3D printing. HP is creating a 3D material app store and is already collaborating with partners Arkema, BASF, Evonik and Lehmann & Voss, with plans to expand the open platform over time.
Toward better 3D printing software
HP has also collaborated with software partners to make the design-to-print process easier and more intuitive. Partners include Siemens, Autodesk Netfabb and Materialise. As part of this endeavor, HP is one of the founding members of the industry consortium that developed 3MF, a 3D printing file format. HP says its HP Jet Fusion 3D Printing Solution is the first 3D printer to be fully compliant with this standard.
For the future, HP plans to expand its palette of materials and colors, enabling customers to transform part properties at the voxel level. Such a feature will allow nearly limitless combinations of colors and materials with unique and as-yet unimagined properties. The anticipated results of these properties include the ability to print with embedded intelligence, such as sensors in parts, which is a key to the Internet of Things; and printing parts with embedded information, like invisible traces or codes, for increased security and tracking.
HP anticipates that up to 50% of parts will be 3D printed from custom plastic, on a printer like the Multi Jet Fusion technology, versus through traditional manufacturing methods.
So we now have another 3D printing process. So far, none of the seven or so 3D printing technologies can do it all, handle all types of materials and deliver all types of final product, from form-fit-and function to final end use. Will this HP system deliver “a one-size-fits-all-3D printing applications?” Probably not. As with all technology, the application will determine the best 3D printer.