HP is the leader in large-scale 3D printing with its Jet Fusion line of industrial printers. HP recognized early on that 3D printing was an emerging market that could take the advanced technology the company had developed for traditional printing and turn it into a 3D printing advantage. First, HP started with a solution that would create plastic prototypes, then moved quickly to solutions that could produce finished, production-ready parts that have already revolutionized the automotive and prosthetic industries.
This month, HP announced its Metal Jet Fusion 5200 A series of industrial 3D printers that will further strengthen HP’s leadership in production-ready 3D printed additive manufacturing.
HP 3D printers
HP’s 3D printers are midway between prototyping (where parts are made one-by-one and the 3D market is very crowded) and high-volume manufacturing (where 3D printers are not yet competitive with traditional manufacturing methods).
HP solutions work for relatively short runs where there is a need for wide variety in a range of related products, reducing single part volumes to something HP solutions can handle. Custom fittings, prostheses and production runs of less than 100,000 units are the strengths of HP technology, and where it has cost advantages over other solutions like CNC machines which are limited to values much lower and have much higher production costs.
At some point, you can imagine these machines being placed in distribution centers or even high-volume stores to provide a greater degree of product variability and customization than would typically be possible, or in labs doctors manufacturing personalized prostheses whose price would be competitive with generic products while offering a much better adaptation to the user.
Metal Jet S100
Plastics have severe temperature and durability limits. For example, you cannot use them in gasoline engines or electric motors. They can also degrade in the sun and they lack the stiffness of metals, so they perform poorly where such stiffness is required. Metals have much greater utility in areas where there is a lot of heat, where there is a much greater load, and where you need something to stand for long periods of time in the hot sun.
HP’s Metal Jet S100 initially uses stainless steel which is good for cosmetic parts but limited, for good reason, in markets like transportation due to its exceptional brittleness for a metal. However, it holds up well in or near water (with limited corrosion and no rusting), where greater strength is needed and where the appearance of the metal is more important than its strength.
But nothing limits HP’s choice of metals. Once this printer ships in volume, I expect HP to embrace other metals, with titanium being, in fact, the killer application.
Although not ideal, stainless steel can be used for armament parts and could, with the proper help and hardening, be used to support troops and troop equipment behind the lines of the battlefield, turning this location into a critical logistical source for spare parts.
Additionally, the combination of HP’s older plastic 3D printers with its current metal 3D printers suggests a “better together” strategy that could mix metal and plastic parts and approximate a much more complete and complex multi-printer experience. And the resulting metal and plastic parts could be, depending on the design, mixed together to create ever more complex and interesting products or subsystems.
Conclusion: The Future of Automated Additive Manufacturing
Used wisely, 3D printers could provide a level of personalization for our purchases, especially in the automotive and prosthetic industries, like we have never seen before. With 3D printers, we should get much more customizable products and much more customizable options over time. We’re already getting better prosthetics, and even the aftermarket will benefit because parts can be cost-effectively made for things that haven’t been produced for years and just need a bit of a refresh.
It also promises to be a lasting revolution when 3D printers become more prevalent, as not only can existing products stay in service longer with better availability of spare parts, but increasingly, 3D printed products will be easier to recycle so that their materials can be used. for future products more easily when discarded.
We are at the forefront of a manufacturing revolution. Once it’s over, crafting will never be the same.