PALO ALTO, Calif. – Its name might be synonymous with ink-based printing technology, but hardware manufacturer HP Inc. has deliberately avoided entering the third dimension – until now.
During HP Reinvention Week, its celebration of HP Labs’ 50th anniversary, HP revealed the Jet Fusion 3D 3200, a new flagship product aimed at the consumer, aviation, automobile, healthcare, and industrial manufacturing sectors that the company will officially release in November.
Unlike its signature InkJet technology, however, HP will be focusing solely on the Jet Fusion’s hardware, while leaving materials to the experts.
“If you’re going after manufacturers, you need to recognize that they might need to fine-tune their materials,” Tim Weber, HP’s global head of 3D materials and advanced applications, tells ITBusiness.ca. “HP is not a materials company. We can’t scale like that.”
Instead, HP has carefully chosen four key partners that Weber says can demonstrate both the variety of materials the Jet Fusion is capable of processing, and the range of applications it can support: Ohio-based hydraulic manufacturer BSF Inc.; German specialty compound manufacturer Lehmann & Voss & Co.; and European chemical manufacturers Evonik Industries and Arkema.
“When you’re creating a new business, you have to be careful – the analogy I always use is you don’t want to get out over your skis, otherwise you tumble down the hill,” Weber says. “So we’re starting with four pilots – four material companies – from the biggest in the world to a very specialized manufacturer, to give us a feel for both extremes.”
Within a year, HP plans to collaborate with additional partners, adding any materials they develop to an online directory that manufacturers will be able to browse for themselves.
If that sounds a lot like the App Store, it should – Weber openly admits that HP is using Apple Inc. as a role model.
And similar to the Cupertino, Calif. tech giant’s payment policy with app developers, HP intends to charge certified third parties a nominal fee for every Fusion-manufactured product or Fusion-compatible material sold, he says.
“We’re basically creating an open materials platform,” he says. “One that will allow companies to go out, work with their OEMs (original equipment manufacturers) like they have for the last 50 years, come back and certify their new materials for our platform.”
How HP set its 3D printer apart
At its core, the Jet Fusion utilizes what Weber calls multijet fusion technology with a powder bed, similar to other 3D printing hardware on the market. However, it also utilizes the company’s InkJet technology to build up to 10 versions of the same component at once, giving HP the edge it needed over its competitors to successfully enter the race to deliver what he calls “the next industrial revolution” – enterprise-scale manufacturing on demand.
“One of the things we felt strongly about as a management team was that we didn’t want to have a product that said ‘me too,’ or was only 10 per cent better,” Weber says. “With MultiJet Fusion, we’re near a factor of 10 better, and the business plan is something that we feel is sustainable, because it’s built on our 2D technology assets.”
Another reason the product is finally ready to be released is it makes financial sense for short-term manufacturing – a fact HP knows firsthand, since the printers manufacture their own parts.
“It’s cheaper to produce a number of these than to build a very complicated $100,000 mold,” Weber says, holding up one of the Fusion’s 3D-printed components.
“We’re starting a business, right?” he says. “Today we have zero dollars’ worth of revenue, and we’re often compared to our competitors, Stratasys and 3D Systems, but they’ve been on the market for 25 years, and we have to learn what it takes to meet them.”