HP claims its technology will reduce the cost of 3D printing ‘by a factor of 10’

Hewlett-Packard is set to enter the 3D printer market with a device based on a new technology called Multijet Fusion, but products won't appear on the market until 2016.

Dion Weisler, executive vice president, Printing and Personal Systems, said: "Before HP entered the 3D printing world, we wanted to solve the issues of speed, cost and quality. You'd expect that, because we've been leading the 2D printing market for many years." Calling Multijet Fusion a 'breakthrough technology', Weisler added: "It's not just 3D printing; it's a tool for the next industrial revolution."

Steve Nigro, HP's senior vice president, inkjet and graphics solutions, claimed 3D printing has captured the world's imagination. "I believe it has the power to change industry, but there are big technology challenges to be solved. For example, it's slow and high quality only comes with an expensive product. The cost today is too high to drive the market transformation."

He said Multijet Fusion is the result of years of research into disruptive technologies. "Using this approach, you will be able to make functional parts ten times faster than any other 3D printing technology in the market. You will get precise, high resolution details and robust mechanical properties.

"The cost will be lower than any other technology in its class and the cost of parts made using the technology will be lower."
The machine itself looks much like a photocopier. Production of a part starts with the application of a layer of powdered material on the print bed. A multi chemistry process is then used, including a fusing agent that is applied where the particles need to be fused together, and a detailing agent where the fusing action needs to be reduced or amplified; this allows parts to be produced with sharp and smooth edges.

"The process is repeated until you have built the object you want," Nigro added, "with the key being the high resolution page wide print bar."
This bar includes more than 30,000 nozzles and the ability to deliver 350million drops per second to a resolution of 21µm.

"Laser sintering," Nigro claimed, "typically has a resolution of 200 to 400µm, which means the ink jet approach is more accurate."

He added that the HP 3D printer could create 1000 items in three hours, compared to 38 hours for the same production run using laser sintering.

In a demonstration, a shackle produced using the new technology in less than 30 minutes was able to lift 5000kg without failing.
However, the product won't hit the market just yet: HP is starting a beta testing programme in 2015 before launching the device in 2016.

Meanwhile, work continues in HP Labs to develop 3D printing technology. Nigro said HP was working on a colour 3D printing process, as well as ways to change the mechanical properties of a device; for example, by modifying its elasticity at particular point in the production process. And the company is also working on ways to change the texture of 3D printed items.

Graham Pitcher

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