HP launches first production-ready 3D printing systems

NEWLY-SPLIT HP has launched the ‘world’s first’ production-reading 3D printers, enabling businesses to quickly produce prototype objects or even small-scale production runs.

The HP Jet Fusion 3D Printing Solution is a step up from the hobbyist 3D printers that have grown in popularity over the past few years, but is also designed to deliver production-quality parts up to 10 times faster and at half the cost of current commercial 3D print systems, HP claimed.

The portfolio initially comprises two models. The HP Jet Fusion 3D 4200 Printer is designed for prototyping and short-run manufacturing needs, and is due to be delivered in late 2016. The HP Jet Fusion 3D 3200 Printer is more focused on prototyping, offering improved productivity at a lower cost per part, and is slated to follow in 2017.

Customers can pre-order HP Jet Fusion 3D Printing Solutions from HP’s website, but they ain’t cheap. The HP Jet Fusion 3D 3200 Printer is available from $130,000 (around £90,000), while the full end-to-end solution, including the printer and a separate Processing Station, will start at $155,000 (around £108,000).

However, HP has lofty ambitions to drive a new industrial revolution, enabling firms to design and manufacture new products more easily.

“Our vision and strategy is to play into the $4bn to $5bn market of 3D [printing] today that is mostly prototyping, but we have a bigger vision and that is to drive the next industrial revolution. That could unleash a potential market of up to $12tn, which is the manufacturing market,” said Alex Monino, head of marketing for HP’s 3D printing business.

The company acknowledged that will need to work with a partner ecosystem and open platforms, as “no one player alone can drive it all themselves”, according to Monino. HP said it is already working with BMW, Siemens, Materialise, Autodesk and Proto Labs, among others.

HP’s printer technology relies on building up an object in layers by fusing a powdered plastic material with the aid of agents that enhance or retard the fusion process to deliver the desired result.

“We lay down a very fine layer of powder, on the order of 50 microns, and then we add two transforming agents that control the plastic, one that helps fuse the plastic and another to stop heat transmission. That is the detailing agent which stops heat bleeding into the surrounding area, and what you get is very detailed parts,” Monino explained.

The advantage of HP’s Jet Fusion process is that it is a single-pass technology, he added, whereby the entire layer is laid down in one pass rather than the print head having to focus on a single point, as with sintering technology printers.

HP’s process also involves more than just the printer itself. The separate Processing Station is used to prepare the right mix of materials for a particular job inside a Build Unit, and to clean up after printing. A single Processing Station can serve multiple printers, however.

“You start by filing up your Build Unit with powder, so you insert it into the Processing Station which mixes the fresh powder with recycled material to save on costs. It fills up the build unit with the right powder, then once the Build Unit is ready you move it to the printer and this is where the processing happens,” Monino said.

Once the part is complete, it needs to be extracted from the “cake” of material surrounding it. For this, the Build Unit is returned to the Processing Station, which reclaims the unused powder for reuse and cleans up the part in a completely self-contained process.

HP is collaborating with industry-leading software partners such as Siemens and Autodesk to provide a complete end-to-end solution for customers, from the design process through to printing.

HP also said that, when coupled with its Sprout Pro workstation, customers will be able to implement complete digitisation of their entire manufacturing process from design through to production. The Sprout Pro blends a traditional PC workstation with a scanner and projector.

“The new HP Jet Fusion 3D Printing Solution delivers a combination of speed, quality and cost never seen in the industry. Businesses and manufacturers can completely rethink how they design and deliver solutions to their customers,” said Stephen Nigro, president of HP’s 3D printing business.