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HP's industrial 3D printer on track to ship this year

Lucas Mearian | March 11, 2016
HP's not interested in the US$6 billion 3D printer market; it's targeting manufacturing.

After announcing in 2014 it would bring an industrial 3D printer to market within two years, HP went mostly silent -- until now.

Next week, HP plans on pitching its Multi Jet Fusion 3D printer at the South by South West (SXSW) conference in Austin.

Steve Nigro, president of 3D printing at HP, said the MultiJet Fusion 3D Printer is on schedule for mass production and will ship late this year; it will retail for between  $100,000 and $1 million.

HP is not interested in going after a piece of the $4 billion-to-$6-billion 3D printer market, Nigro said. Its focus is on the $12 trillion manufacturing market.

"First off,  ...we're targeting rapid prototyping..., but we're really looking at the production opportunities where ultimately you start doing final parts production using 3D printing -- where Multi Jet Fusion will shine.

"We're going to deliver something that's reliable," he added. "That's part of the reason it's taking us so long to put this system together. We're making sure it's a robust system."

The new industrial 3D printer -- a little larger than a washing machine -- is 10 times faster and 50% less expensive than current systems on the market, Nigro said.

HP has already shipped its Multi Jet Fusion 3D printer to beta customers, such as Shapeways, a 3D printing service that allows users to upload CAD designs and have them printed out and shipped back.

Using production parts as an example, Nigro said 3D extrusion techniques -- where layer upon layer of thermoplastic nylon is laid down -- can take up to 83 hours to create the part. Laser sintering, where a laser fuses layers of powdered material (even metals) together, can take 30 hours.

"With Multi Jet Fusion, it takes three hours," he said.

In some ways, HP's new 3D printer mimics how ink-jet printers work.

The printer works by first depositing powdered plastic (about 100 microns thick, or the thickness of a standard sheet of paper) onto a print bed using a print bar that looks like a scanning bar on a typical 2D printer. The print bar has 30,000 nozzles spraying 350 million fusing agent droplets per second in specific patterns as it moves back and forth across a print platform. A detailing liquid "fusing agent" is sprayed around the edges of a printed object, giving it "sharp" details.

The Multi Jet Fusion printer also can modify color, elasticity, texture, strength, detail, and electrical and thermal conductivity -- within a single 3D-printed part -- at the voxel (3D pixel) level. HP is currently investigating whether the technology will be well suited for 3D printing with ceramics and metals, and has also invited select customers to help accelerate its development.


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