HP Delivers its First 3D Printer, Said to be Faster and Offering More Object Strength and Detail

multi jet fusion 2

HP’s Steve Nigro introducing HP’s new 3D printer that uses Multi Jet Fusion 3D-printer technology.

Today in New York, Hewlett-Packard unveiled its first HP-developed 3D printer, which uses HP’s new additive Multi Jet Fusion technology, which in turn borrows from HP’s thermal inkjet-printing technology, to produce three-dimensional objects. It uses a four-step procedure in which liquid material is applied to a material coating, then heated and fused to build up a 3D object layer-by-layer. HP CEO Meg Whitman has said one of the major problems of current 3D printing is slow print speed; the new Multi Jet Fusion is said to print at up to 10-times faster than using conventional 3D-printing technology.

To achieve its faster printer speed, the 3D printer uses an array of thermal inkjet print heads to eject an entire layer of a 3D object at once, or 350 drops per second at 21 microns, speeding up the process, and providing greater object detail. Resolution is 1,200 dpi; competitive 3D printers’ resolution is typically 600 dpi.  According to HP, the printer can print 1,000 working gears in three hours. In a demo, the system printed working gears as well as a heavy-duty chain link.

HP plans to introduce its first 3D printer using Multi Jet Fusion next year. It’s currently working with early customers in product testing and feedback, and is also working with partners for open collaboration in materials and software.  Availability of the end-to-end HP 3D printing system is planned in 2016.

HP’s 3D Printing Roadmap

HP says its long-term strategy Multi Jet Fusion technology is to be able to use not only thermoplastics to create objects, but also ceramics and metals, as well as bio-compatible, and other materials, and to create parts with controllably variable—even quite different—mechanical and physical properties, within a single part, or among separate parts processed simultaneously in the working area. It says this can be done by controlling the interaction of the fusing and detailing agents with each other, with the material to be fused, and with other transforming agents. HP also plans to deliver color capabilities for the same set of full-color solutions it currently offers in the traditional “2D” printing space. It’ll also provide a certification process for partners to develop materials.

The firm’s overall goal in 3D printing is to bring to market a faster and less expensive 3D printer that produces higher-quality products than competitive solutions. Currently, it says, competitors don’t offer a 3D printer that can produce a significantly functional part that also has fine detail and smooth surfaces. It says Multi Jet Fusion technology can build a stronger, more accurate product with a better finish, which has the potential to revolutionize manufacturing, offering small businesses a new way to produce goods and parts for customers.

HP also says it will price products for large corporations, as well as for single individual “at an accessible price point” – with access to products for both enterprise and consumers. Enterprises will likely include manufacturing companies, mid-size and large in-house model shops, and service bureaus, for prototype and consumer/prosumer applications, production, short-run manufacturing, and final-part manufacturing.

A Closer Look at the Printing Process

The HP 3D-printing process – Figure 2

3d-printing processMulti Jet Fusion technology starts by laying down a thin layer of material in the working area. Next, the carriage containing an HP Thermal Inkjet array passes from left-to-right, printing chemical agents across the full working area. The layering and energy  processes are combined in a continuous pass of the second carriage from top-to-bottom. The process continues, layer-by-layer, until a complete part is formed. At each layer, the carriages change direction for optimum productivity.

Using HP Thermal Inkjet arrays with their high number of nozzles per inch, HP says its proprietary synchronous architecture is capable of printing over 30 million drops per second across each inch of the working area. The firm notes, however, that fast speed can lead to challenges in making quality parts – for parts to work, it’s important to ensure that the material has been properly fused together, and that part edges are smooth and well-defined. To achieve quality at speed, HP says it invented a proprietary multi-agent printing process under which the agents are applied by HP Thermal Inkjet arrays. (The general process for HP’s multi-agent  printing process is described in detail in Figure 2 above).

The material is recoated across the work area as shown in Figure 2a (above). In Figure 2b (above), a fusing agent (“F”) is selectively applied where the particles are to fuse together, and in Figure 2c (above) a detailing agent (“D”) is selectively applied where the fusing action needs to be reduced or amplified. In this example, HP notes that the detailing agent reduces fusing at the boundary to produce a part with sharp and smooth edges. In Figure 2d (above), the work area is exposed to fusing energy, and Figure 2e (above) shows the fused and unfused areas of the edge of a part in the work area.

The process is then repeated until a complete part has been formed. Note that the diagram above is an example – in different hardware implementations, the order of steps may be rearranged.

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