3D tech­nol­ogy

DEMM Engineering & Manufacturing - - CONTENTS - Source / Gart­ner.com

HP un­veiled its Multi Jet Fu­sion 3D print­ing tech­nol­ogy in Oc­to­ber. De­rived from a com­bi­na­tion of ex­ist­ing inkjet and fu­sion pro­cesses, the firm aims to in­tro­duce the first prin­ters in the sec­ond half of 2016. Pric­ing is not avail­able but they will be tar­geted at en­ter­prises and ser­vice bu­reaus, not con­sumers.

HP’s inkjet tech­nol­ogy uses ther­mo­plas­tics, jet­ted ma­te­ri­als and ra­di­ant en­ergy. The re­sults are claimed to be me­chan­i­cally strong and highly pre­cise, sim­i­lar to ther­mo­plas­tics formed by se­lec­tive laser sin­ter­ing (SLS) pro­cesses.

The firm in­di­cates pro­duc­tion rates are ex­pected to be about 10 times faster than SLS. How­ever, it is too early to know whether such high pro­duc­tiv­ity ap­plies to all use cases or is it peak per­for­mance for cer­tain sit­u­a­tions, ma­te­ri­als and/or prod­ucts.

The tech­nol­ogy re­sem­bles a bin­der inkjet process, but the inkjet head de­posits a ther­mal fu­sion liq­uid. A heat­ing el­e­ment trans­fers en­ergy into the fus­ing agent, caus­ing lo­calised fu­sion of the ther­mo­plas­tic. The print­head also de­posits a sec­ond ma­te­rial layer, pro­mot­ing fine de­tail and sur­face fin­ish.

Other ma­te­ri­als and chem­i­cals can be de­posited with the flu­ids, en­abling the in­fu­sion of met­als, ceram­ics and chem­i­cals into the build ma­te­rial. Sep­a­rately, HP has demon­strated pre­ci­sion parts with good me­chan­i­cal prop­er­ties and rea­son­ably smooth fin­ish that were printed us­ing op­ti­mised ther­mo­plas­tics.

The sys­tem draws from HP’s ex­per­tise in inkjet hard­ware and chem­istry for the 2D dig­i­tal printer mar­ket. Based on ini­tial mar­ket re­search, the ma­te­rial is a black ther­mo­plas­tic but de­vel­op­ment of col­ored ma­te­ri­als is un­der­way. The ma­te­ri­als and chem­i­cals re­port­edly will not re­quire spe­cial han­dling for safety pur­poses.

HP has a first prod­uct in de­vel­op­ment, but does not ex­pect mod­els to reach the mar­ket for two years. While some were ex­pect­ing a rapid launch, HP feels that en­gag­ing in part­ner­ships with cus­tomers and ven­dors will help it re­fine the tech­nol­ogy and de­ter­mine the best ini­tial ap­pli­ca­tions.

HP’s part­ner-based ap­proach pro­vides op­por­tu­ni­ties for third par­ties to col­lab­o­rate on and de­velop the prin­ters. The idea of en­cour­ag­ing en­gage­ment and in­no­va­tion from out­side of HP seems like a very non-na­tive thing for HP to do but the con­cept was suc­cess­fully ap­plied to the de­vel­op­ment of its very high speed inkjet press prod­uct line.

Ri­vals have plenty of time to in­no­vate, mak­ing HP’s strat­egy risky. It must en­sure the prin­ters’ ma­te­rial range and ca­pa­bil­i­ties, pro­duc­tiv­ity and pric­ing are not just sig­nif­i­cantly bet­ter than to­day’s tech­nol­ogy but bet­ter than the tech­nolo­gies and 3D printer of­fer­ings that will be in the mar­ket in late 2016.

Printer mar­ket

3D printer unit ship­ments will grow at a com­pound an­nual growth rate of 106.6 per­cent through 2018. Cor­re­spond­ing an­nual av­er­age spend­ing will grow at 87.7 per­cent for the same pe­riod. Sales will ex­ceed US$13.4 bil­lion in 2018 as con­sumers and or­gan­i­sa­tions rapidly adopt 3D prin­ters for home and business use.

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