HP reveals next move in making 3D printing competitive with injection molding

HP (Palo Alto, CA) has a storied past, but it may have an even more glorious future if it is able to deliver on its vision of industrial-scale 3D printing that can rival injection molding. Its opening salvo in achieving this long-term ambition came just about one year ago, when it unveiled the HP Jet Fusion 3D Printing Solution, which prints quality parts up to 10 times faster and at half the cost of current 3D printers, according to HP. The newest milestone came last week, when it launched its 3D Open Materials and Application Lab at its sprawling facility in Corvallis, OR. HP invited several journalists, myself included, and analysts to tour the lab and to lay out its strategy for embedding 3D printing within the $12 trillion manufacturing sector.

The Corvallis facility, a stone’s throw from Oregon State University’s Reser Stadium, was the birthplace of thermal inkjet technology some 30 years ago, and remains a hotbed of innovation, where material scientists and engineers design, test and build printheads, silicon wafers and thermal inkjet printer heads. Right now, all eyes are on the capabilities of its additive manufacturing system and the development of compatible materials.

HP Multi Jet Fusion
At some point in the future, Multi Jet Fusion technology will rival injection molding in speed, cost and part quality, according to HP. Slide courtesy HP.

Multi Jet Fusion is the culmination of decades of research, Timothy Weber, PhD, Vice President and General Manager of 3D Materials and Advanced Applications, told journalists during the site visit. “The total market for 3D printing is around $5 to $6 billion,” said Weber. “The market wasn’t big enough to interest a $50+ billion company like HP, and we didn’t have a technological differentiator,” he added to explain why the company waited as long as it did before dipping its toe in the additive manufacturing pond. That changed with the development of Multi Jet Fusion technology, which has the potential to compete with conventional plastics processing techniques, and the ability to engineer materials at the voxel level.

The mighty voxel

HP 3D Open Materials and Application Lab
HP's 3D Open Materials and Application Lab in Corvallis, OR.

HP describes the voxel as a volumetric pixel. With Multi Jet Fusion, HP can manipulate materials at the voxel level by dosing liquid functional agents in the powder bed as the parts are built, explained Mike Regan, Materials Director on Weber’s team. “After we spread the powder [during the Multi Jet Fusion process], we pattern with our liquid fusing agent. At that point in time, we can can also decide which voxel we want to address with additional agents—color, plasticizer, an electrical component or something else—resulting in a part that is built up not just with its mechanical properties but other physical properties, as well.”

Find out what’s new and what’s coming in 3D printing at the 3D Printing Summit at this year’s PLASTEC East event in New York City in June. Go to the PLASTEC East  website to learn more about the event and to register to attend.

The possibilities are tremendous, but the problem remains that only a handful of materials

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