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HP turns to 3D printing to revive flagging fortunes

Lucas Mearian | Dec. 10, 2014
The company may find success with its Multi Jet Fusion system, as long as it keeps down the costs of printing materials and remains open to third-party development.

cwdecember20143dprinter hewlett packard klossner
Credit: John Klossner

On top of its decision to split into two companies, Hewlett-Packard's move into 3D printing appears to be an attempt to spur revenues and rekindle a culture of innovation within the company.

Key to HP's success with its new Multi Jet Fusion industrial 3D printing system will be how open it is to outside developers. An open architecture would allow third-party software and hardware development for applications HP's technologists might not envision.

New approach needed
HP will also need to be open to the use of third-party materials in its printer, said Ross Kozarsky, an analyst at Lux Research.

The Multi Jet Fusion printer will be beta-tested next year and is scheduled to ship in 2016. HP claims the printer runs at least 10 times faster and costs half as much as existing machines, which run anywhere from $100,000 to $1 million.

To maximize its chances in the growing 3D printer market, HP will also need to avoid the innovation-unfriendly practices of its conventional printer business, Kozarsky said.

However lucrative HP's established inkjet printer business model is, "the emerging field of 3D printing will reward more open material models, like the one that 3D printer company Arcam used to break into the aerospace and medical device markets," Kozarsky said.

Arcam makes a 3D printer that uses electron beam melting technology to sinter together metal powder layer by layer to make parts for the orthopedic implant and aerospace industries.

Unlike most other 3D printer makers, Molndal, Sweden-based Arcam focuses on production applications, not rapid parts prototyping. As a result, Kozarsky said, it made important strategic moves such as adopting an open materials model and encouraging third parties to develop materials for its printers.

"It has catalyzed a whole industry consortia to be devoted to developing materials for Arcam's printers," Kozarsky said.

"HP should avoid the shortsighted razor/blade business model -- already employed by the likes of 3D Systems, Stratasys and EOS -- which prioritizes next quarter's profits over innovation and long-term growth," Kozarsky added, referring to the practice of selling one product at a discount but charging a premium for replacement goods -- such as toner -- that are essential to the first product's operation.

The HP Multi Jet Fusion 3D printer combines the attributes of binder jet printing, where a liquid bonding agent is selectively deposited to join the powder materials, and sintering technology, where layer upon layer of powder material is melted and fused together.

'Blown away' at Ford
Harold Sears, a technical specialist in additive manufacturing technology at Ford, said he was "blown away" by HP's announcement of the new printer, but he's wary about the company's ability to produce production-quality parts.


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