HP says 3D printing is moving from niche to production

Comments Email Print

Corvallis, Ore. — HP Inc. is opening up about its advanced digital manufacturing capabilities and forecasting disruption for processes including injection molding.

Additive manufacturing — now more commonly called 3D printing — has existed for decades, but the current HP push could make the modest niche market to a new level.

Digital manufacturing with 3D printing has the potential to disrupt the $12 trillion global manufacturing sector, said Timothy Weber, HP vice president and general manager of 3D materials and advanced applications.

HP has the "opportunity, strategy and tactics" to "leverage its deep capabilities" and achieve the major change, he said.

Weber guided a six-hour March 15 technology briefing and tour of HP's 3,500-square-foot 3D Open Materials and ​ Applications Laboratory at the 11-building HP complex in Corvallis.

In demonstrating its talent, HP gave each attendee a "golden ticket" that was numbered, 3D printed and painted. The ticket played off a scene from "Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory," alluding to the recently opened lab as a virtual candy store of advanced technology and processes.

As part of the event, HP partner SigmaDesign of Vancouver, Wash., said it plans on May 22 to launch a $24,150 material development kit enabling potential suppliers to advance new powder materials for possible certification for use on HP Jet Fusion 3D printers.

Weber set up the event with this perspective: "We are entering into the fourth industrial revolution with our innovative technology in 3D printing."

HP will present its case to attendees of the March 19-23 Additive Manufacturers Users Group conference in Chicago.

"It's all about plastics now," but, in time, will evolve in different technologies and other materials including metals and potentially ceramics, Weber said.

Quoting industry data, HP said the 3D printing market is expected to reach $18.1 billion in 2021 from $2.2 billion in 2013 and a projected $5.9 billion in 2017.

For the 2021 outlook, plastics account for $10.4 billion or 57 percent vs. $7.7 billion or 43 percent for metals and other materials.

Fabio Annunziata, HP's director of business development for 3D printing, said HP aims to build a wide portfolio of materials and establish a Multi Jet Fusion open platform. The goal is to drive reductions in powder and printing costs.

HP touts its 30 years of leadership in printing technologies as preparation for its long-awaited and highly anticipated entry into the 3D arena.

In November, HP began shipping its model 4200 Multi Jet Fusion units with Voxel-level 3D printing. The cost is $240,000 to $250,000.

Early development of the printer occurred under direction of the hardware team at the HP facility in Sant Cugat del Vallès, Spain, north of Barcelona.

Mike Regan, HP materials and applications section manager for 3D printing, explained that a Voxel is a volumetric digital pixel that in 3D printing has a 21-micron resolution that forms the basis of HP's current accuracy with the technology.

Regan said HP is working on technologies and chemistry to address issues with fusing agents, color, elasticity and texture.

Currently on its open platform initiative, HP is collaborating with material makers Evonik Industries AG, BASF SE, Lehmann & Voss & Co. KG and Arkema plc.

Evonik's nylon 12 is the first material authorized for use on the model 4200 machine.

Eventually, HP might collaborate with as many as 50 material partners.

In addition to the model 4200, HP is prototyping a model 3200 with lower capabilities and a projected price of $130,000 to $135,000.

Two material companies discussed the technology's direction.

"Additive manufacturing cannot be grown with one material company or one equipment manufacturer," said Sylvia Monsheimer, global business director of Evonik's additive manufacturing work with HP through Evonik's resource efficiency unit. She is based in Marl, Germany.

"BASF was not interested in prototypes" of the early 3D world but "wants to get to production parts" in commercial volumes, said Kara Noack, lead business development innovations globally for BASF's additive manufacturing. She is based in Brighton, Mich.

Attendees at the lab tour observed a BASF technician working with HP personnel in trialing a thermoplastic urethane. TPU as a foundation material could be of interest to numerous markets including consumer products, sporting goods, automotive, aerospace and packaging, Noack said.

Other work underway in the HP lab is testing formulations of thermoplastic elastomers.

Initially, HP's open platform materials roadmap focuses on nylon 12 and then nylon 11. Next might come work on higher-rigidity nylon 12 glass beads, elastomers and flame retardant nylon.

SigmaDesign's material development kid for the HP Multi Jet Fusion will facilitate suppliers' early in-house screening of powders targeted for certification under the platform.

"The constraints on designers have dropped significantly," said Bill Huseby, SigmaDesign president and CEO.

SigmaDesign took delivery of a model 4200 in February and has been using it to make parts and encourage engineers and designers to think about how to use the new technology.

Huseby looks forward to the availability of additional materials for processing. "We will see where it is going," he said.

Weber said about 100 engineers, technicians and contractors are on the HP team for 3D materials and applications development.