The goal–make parts fast. The challenge, make prototype parts fast with custom materials.
This was the goal of engineers at HP Inc.’s New Product Innovation Team based in Corvallis, Oregon. HP Inc. controls the largest share (approximately 36%) of the world’s highly competitive desktop paper printer market notes research firm International Data Corporation (IDC). Canon is second at 23.1%. Thus, the research, development, and design of the next generation of printer models at the $50 billion global technology giant are vital elements to maintain and grow that position.
The engineering team develops consumer and business inkjet printers and cartridges. To meet their goal of making parts fast, they turned to Proto Labs for help in reducing design cycle time; the quick-turn supplier could deliver parts within days and in a custom material that HP had created.
The team works on products and parts that will be in direct contact with ink. When developing the design, the team prefers prototypes made with materials that match as closely as possible the final shipped products. Because of multiple design iterations, getting prototypes quickly is important.
“HP uses exotic engineering resins that we’ve worked with our materials suppliers to develop,” said J.D. Hankins, new product introduction engineer, HP Inc. “The materials give us a high heat deflection for our components, because some parts of the printers do get warm.” These materials include custom versions of thermoplastics such as PET, a glass-built PETG, a clear PET, and other plastics and blends.
Proto Labs was able to manufacture the parts in the time needed using the custom resins HP provided. Recognizing that injection molding is an art and a science, experienced application engineers and mold technicians at Proto Labs work to control the many process variables involved with using customer-supplied materials. To assess these variables, the Proto Labs team reviews a range of items, such as the Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS), technical data, and mold-processing information to ensure the material sent can be molded using Proto Labs’ processes and would not be harmful to the operators.
“That’s huge for us to be able to use these materials in the rapid prototype phase,” Hankins said. “In the past, we could use machined parts, but it’s not the same, not always the same finish.”
A variety of parts such as frame components were produced for HP, but because the printer models are still in development stages and designs may change, the next-generation model is under wraps.
“Working with Proto Labs was seamless,” said Hankins, “starting with the early stages of uploading a CAD file online to Proto Labs’ quoting system for pricing information and design feedback.
“We were able to do it all online and have a quote back within hours,” continued Hankins. “We’re normally pushing for three to five days to try to get a quote back from a standard injection molding firm.”
The design for manufacturability (DFM) analysis was useful as well. “Looking at mold flow, ejector pin and gate locations, all of that back and forth that usually happens, and other adjustments along the way, was very helpful to the process,” Hankins said. HP has now produced parts for close to 20 different designs with this project alone, plus multiple iterations within some of those designs.
“Proto Labs is actually reducing our design cycle times,” Hankins said. “Normally, it takes six to eight weeks or longer to build an injection mold, and then another week or two to develop and process it. Proto Labs reduced that time to two weeks or less.”
For now, the prototypes manufactured for HP are “in the development phase,” Hankins said, and are part of a longer product development cycle that can take up to two years or more. Going forward, Hankins expects Proto Labs to continue to play a key supplier role as his team works on “testing printers, testing cartridges, and testing ideas.”