How HP is 3D printing tomorrow’s world today

3D printing is set to change how manufacturers work. Here's how HP sees their work impacting manufacturers over the next few years.
2 April 2018

3D printing will change the future of manufacturing. Source: Pixabay

If you think you’ve seen it all when it comes to 3D printing, think again. HP is creating the future through its 3D printers and it’s working hard to transform the lives of manufacturers across industries.

From printing customized name badge holders to car parts, the company envisions a future where manufacturers can customize products using a printer, quickly and at a lower cost.

The California-based tech-giant claims that its current portfolio of 3D printers is able to print 10 times faster than anyone else in the market, thus reducing production time and cost. In fact, its proprietary printing technology, called multijet fusion printing, allows moving parts to be printed in one piece, instead of printing different parts that need to be assembled after.

The company says that its technology in workstations is capable of doing AEC (Architecture, Engineering & Construction) and CAD/CAM (Computer Aided Design and Manufacturing) although that is only on screen in 2D form.

However, HP aspires to enhance the ability of its workstations to take a 3D object, translate it to the virtual world where users can edit it, and finally, print it as and when they see fit.

3D printing has been accepted, especially in manufacturing, as a major cost-saving solution. However, the company feels that it is not about cost savings but rather about quicker speed to market and manufacturing in new and innovative ways. HP’s multijet fusion printing allows customization on a large scale.

Currently, HP’s printers only allow for printing with nylon. They have recently launched a portfolio of 3D printers that could print in color. They will also be launching a printer that could print with metal, which has significant applications in aerospace and automobile industries.

Soon, there will be no need to maintain an inventory of spares. Parts can be manufactured as orders are received. Parts that are no longer available can also be reverse engineered and printed, for example, parts of an antique car. For suppliers, they could send files to be printed, instead of delivering physical objects.

Designing something for 3D printing is very different from designing something for CNC (Computer numerical control) or injection molding. Unfortunately, with the design for CNC, you are limited by what the machine can do. Designing in 3D you can have any shape and any internal structure.

In the future, the technology will allow for each individual voxels (3D pixels) to take on different properties and colors. This implies certain voxels could be printed as a conductive material, or be of a different color and density.

It is now possible to print RFID (Radio Frequency Identity) chips into any manufactured device, for example. This has major implications for IoT as devices can be embedded with sensors and chips that could be connected to a network instantly for real-time diagnosis.

Layers printed in different colors could help make it easier for people to observe signs of wear and tear. Instead of looking for obvious signs of fault or measuring thickness, parts could be replaced when the color of a moving part changes.

Having said that, the initial costs of printing is rather high. HP’s own first-generation multijet fusion printers cost about US$250,000. Aside from making the investment, businesses will have to think about design capability, and whether 3D printing will be primarily used for prototyping or manufacturing final parts.

The company says that its vision is to enable customers to build final parts in a large environment with fleets of their printers, and they’re aggressively driving down the cost of purchasing their printers to enable the “democratization of 3D printing”.

Although HP develops its own materials, they are working with industry partners to adhere to specific quality and standard, allowing third-party suppliers to provide their own materials.

With 3D printing, it also eliminates the need for a factory setup in a remote location. Every print bed could be printing different parts made of different materials simultaneously. At least, that’s HP’s vision.