HP Jet Fusion 3D Printing Solution
It’s the news we’ve all been waiting for, nearly 18 months after a packed out press conference in New York where HP first uttered the words Multi Jet Fusion and signalled and "reinvention" of 3D printing, the computer technology giant's big 3D debut has finally been unveiled as the HP Jet Fusion 3D Printing Solution.
Back in May, HP invited a group of select media to its huge Barcelona campus to share its big news and fill us with enough tapas to last us a lifetime (that’s not true, you can never have enough 600 Euro ham). In a super slick grand unveiling - strobe lights, curtain lifting and all - we were able to catch a glimpse of the company’s first 3D printing systems, a full production-ready, end-to-end solution that went on display publically for the very first time at RAPID in Orlando. But if you are as eagle-eyed about floor plans as us, you wouldn’t have expected anything less from the two mammoth booths HP had locked for North America’s biggest 3D technologies event.
Far from the mock ups we saw back in 2014, HP has delivered two 3D printing systems – the HP Jet Fusion 3D 3200 Printer and the HP Jet Fusion 3D 4200 Printer – the former designed for prototyping and the latter for short-run manufacturing. Though the final package may look different, the company is right on track for the goals it set itself in the beginning: superior part quality, breakthrough productivity and to lower cost-per-part by 50%.
“Our unique position today is, we very much have a focus on production manufacturing,” Stephen Nigro, President of HP’s 3D Printing Business, explained. “We’re going to serve the prototype market and we definitely have a focus on production because that’s really the market opportunity. The open market approach we’re taking will be essential to the industry.”
As promised, HP is offering competitive print times and equally impressive cost-per-part numbers. Using SLS as its benchmark, it’s ten times faster and parts can be printed at half the cost of current systems – for a small part like a cog, it’s claiming users could 3D print around 5,000 in a day compared to the 500 produced by SLS. The platform uses a unique dual-carriage, multi-agent printing process whereby a layer of powder is deposited onto the build platform (406 x 305 x 406 mm) followed by a fusing and detailing 3D Agent, which are passed in a second movement by HP Thermal Inkjet arrays. Energy is then applied to catalyse the fusing agent and a new layer of material is deposited
The machine can produce functional parts at the individual voxel level (the 3D equivalent of 2D printing pixels) and has the ability to address over 340 million of these per second for a single layer. The benefit of this is not only rapid build speeds but also the ability to manipulate part properties at the tiniest level.
More than just a 3D printer
Perhaps the biggest surprise of all was the reveal of an accompanying Processing Station. In what HP describes as a “pain point” for the industry, through months of collaboration and conversations with users already active in the industry, the idea for a post-processing machine was born.
HP's 3D printing workflow.
A tour around HP’s 3D Printing Lab revealed around 10 iterations of the printer, a working display of the machine’s evolution, but most importantly, the workshop showed barely any signs of powder spillage on the floor, no need for safety glasses or overalls but instead a tidy and smooth working environment. This is due to the clean and connected workflow. Parts travel from the printer housed in a separate Build unit across to the Processing Station, which is synced up with the printer and eliminates the need for manual handling and any unnecessary mess. Prints come out of the machine looking near on finished, requiring only one additional process such as sandblasting.
On top of that, the machine is also used to recycle material. Any excess powder is filtered back into the system mixed with a portion of clean powder from a fresh cartridge and deposited back into a container ready for transporting to the next build. The cartridge system resembles that of which we’re used to experiencing in the 2D world where slot-in cartridges, in this case filled with powder, are used to make it as clean and pain free as possible.
“We knew some sort of post processing was needed and since we had this very early customer engagement process where customers were in the lab with us it became very apparent that there was a real need to improve the workflow,” Stephen added. “That was not in our initial plan, we were just going to do the core machines, have some accessories but then when we started to get into the open market we started studying the workflow and realised, wow this really is a customer pain point.”
Scott Schiller, VP Market Development at HP 3D Printing, commented: “We have model shops all over the world and we have 3D printing technologies that we have been using for many years. The observation was that for a powder-based technology we really want it to be an experience where it’s not difficult - it’s taking friction out of adoption. We want that workflow to be so smooth and clean that people forget that there’s a powder approach.”
On the software side, HP has introduced HP SmartStream 3D Software, a cloud-enabled, in-box solution that’s designed to streamline the design to print workflow and provides useful features like time and cost estimators. SmartStream currently supports both STL and 3MF but as one of the 3MF Consortium’s founding members, HP were clear about their intentions to eventually do away with STL in favour of its successor which is better equipped to support its voxel level control.
Jet Fusion sample parts.
Since its initial announcement, HP has focused heavily on promoting an open approach and they’re keeping to that focus in two ways. The first is through partnerships with companies who are already leaders in the 3D printing industry like Materialise, Shapeways, Proto Labs, Jabil and Siemens who have each been working with HP to trial the technology and develop software solutions.
“We’re unabashedly very open in terms of how we engage the market because there are a lot of people who have been in this space for quite some time and we have found the market to be amazingly receptive and I think everybody has been looking for the catalyst,” Scott added. “Historically it’s always been about barriers to entry and control and what we see is that power moving from a very vertical focus to one that’s a bit more horizontal, it’s about the relationships and the partnerships and what comes as a function of that – we believe we can only be successful by partnering very successfully.”
The second way it’s opening the platform up is through material development by working with certified partners like BASF, Evonik, Arkema and Lehmann&Voss&Co. Initially, the machines will be available with HP’s own 3D High Reusability PA12 material (solely in black because it’s age resistant and according to Stephen “a good starting point’ for functional production”) but in the future this will expand to include more HP developed and certified partner materials featuring colour, ceramics and eventually embedded intelligence. Intelligent material properties is perhaps one of the most exciting prospects and HP suggest that in the future, voxel level control will allow us to embed sensors into a print which can be used to alert the user if a part is under stress. For example, in something like the famous chain link we saw back in 2014, an LED or colour indicator could show when layers have been removed through wear and tear. HP envisions driving this further by offering a Material Development Kit, which will initially allow companies and eventually universities to create their own branded materials with the HP stamp.
Living up to the hype
It’s clear that HP is confident it can achieve the same in the 3D market as it has done in the graphics industry – so confident in fact that we could see future short run HP products manufactured with Jet Fusion printed parts. In fact, 66 parts in the Jet Fusion Solution itself have been printed using the tech - a novel way of proving the potential of these functional parts and we’re told this number could increase to around 50% of its total parts in the future. By doing this, HP is demonstrating how Jet Fusion could be bordering closely on rivalling injection moulding in cases where the benefits of printing for a small batch production run outweigh that of injection moulding. HP showed us some confidential data where Jet Fusion offered substantial savings in terms of reduced inventory, logistics costs and overall cost-per-part.
They're already working with high-profile brands like Nike where Jet Fusion has been used to accelerate the sportswear giant’s prototyping and manufacture of high-performance footwear. BMW is also an early adopter using HP’s technology to further investigate the potential of 3D technologies in its prototyping and concept modelling capabilities.
“The way we describe our value proposition objective is that it needs to be so powerful that it’s not just economically justified. It’s so powerful that it changes a corporate or institutional behaviour,” Scott added. “That is something that I think we’ve become quite good at over the last 15 years.”
Delivery of the HP Jet Fusion 4200 is set to commence later this year and the 3200 will follow in 2017. Standalone machine prices start at $130,000 and the full solution including Processing Station will be available from $155,000.
Before writing this article I went back and read our Head of Content, Jim’s report on HP’s New York launch just to see if the promises made have in fact remained true. It’s hard to say just yet if they will ‘lead the business’ as Meg Whitman, now President and Chief Executive Officer of Hewlett Packard Enterprise, proposed but the key drivers – cost, speed and quality, remain high on the list of targets.
HP isn’t shying away from its mission to ‘win in 3D’ and with so much opportunity in the open market, if they stick with their key goals, there’s a very good chance their impact will be significant. As Stephen Nigro said during the launch, “the amazing thing is we’re just starting” and though we might not see these pivotal shifts right away, it will be interesting to see how the industry takes to the technology and where HP’s roadmap will lead.