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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.

"They're touting some pretty good [part-printing] accuracy. [But] any technology is able to make [a part] look better if you pick a certain geometry," Sears said, referring to demo parts HP printed. "I can't wait to see it in person and get some automotive parts made on it."

Ford has five 3D prototyping centers that churn out more than 20,000 parts annually. For HP to make inroads at Ford, its printers and materials must be less expensive than existing offerings, Sears said.

"Material properties and cost will forever be an issue," Sears said. "There are some rumors going around... about how they want to address metals. I'm interested to hear where they're going to go with that."

When HP announced the Multi Jet Fusion printer, the company's senior vice president of Inkjet and Graphics Solutions, Steve Nigro, espoused the value of keeping development open to third parties. The company has created an open collaboration program for developers who want to create specialty applications for the 3D printer.

"There's only so much HP can do on its own," Nigro said.

Jury's still out
Deutsche Bank said in a research report that it's hard to fully evaluate HP's technology at the moment, in part because the company offered no information on pricing and few details about print materials.

"However, at first blush the product appears to offer some interesting benefits versus existing 3D printing technologies (namely speed), and given HP's significant resources, we would expect them to be able to garner significant customer interest," Deutsche Bank analyst Sherri Scribner wrote in the report.

Deutsche Bank is optimistic about the overall 3D printing market.

"Given the growth of the market and the significant upside for further adoption of 3D printing technologies, there is still plenty of opportunity for other 3D printing companies to benefit, and we view Stratasys and 3D Systems as well positioned to continue to see growth," Deutsche Bank stated.

HP is not the first to try to improve printer throughput; technologies such as Lough­borough University's high-speed sintering printer have achieved similar tenfold improvements in print speed. But precision suffered, requiring post-production finishing work.

Sears said he's eager to see how the HP system stacks up: "If the speed of this machine really comes through and they're able to develop it in a larger platform... I'm hopeful."


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