Throughout the visit at their Barcelona Labs, gave us an opportunity to see how well HP 3D printing answers a serious grilling by leading industry journalists such as Develop3D’s Martyn Day, Get3DSmart’s John Hauer, as well as Industry Analysts such as Terry Wohlers, Pete Basiliere and Joe Kempton. Professor Phil Dickens from the University of Nottingham also contributed (you can read Professor Dickens’ own review here). They really seemed to have an answer ready for every point raised and challenge made to HP’s vision for growing the entire 3D printing industry. Read on.
Q: “Do you see your current customers who use 2D printing expanding to 3D printing as well?”
A: “Anyone who is doing designing, any sort of prototyping, or small-scale production is a potential customer. We have many and close relationships to several multinational large manufacturers and we’re getting in touch with them all [about this)].”
Q: I mean in a local 2D printing shop, $150.000 isn’t really beyond their capabilities…
A: Absolutely, I think we’ll see a lot of that. When we started putting our plans together two years ago we wondered how big our print service provider network could was. And we had a debate and figured out that this network wasn’t that large after all. I think what’s happening is that it’s still very early, in terms of the evolution of the industry, and things are currently not that easy to use, but soon they will become more reliable, more robust, and then you’re going to see the entry price barrier drop, more service providers coming onto the market and son on”.
Q: “Do you think that your new machine will grasp the interest of automotive manufacturers for the purpose of rapid prototyping?”
A: “It’s never white or black. With our relatively low machine cost, and based on our analysis, it will be a very attractive choice for production. You can already get some significant break even points versus injection molding. So I think that more and more adopters are going to get interested. Actually, when we talk with our foundation customers, what we find out is that all they want to talk about is production.”
Q: And also are you planning the enter the architectural modeling market?
A: “For architecture, today the market prospects on that part isn’t very good. Some things that relate to that is the bed size that needs to be significantly large in order to accommodate at least the creation of parts. Second is the color, which is now a problem since we are monochrome, and finally is the customer access.
This is an order of magnitude more complex from mechanical CAD. There are solutions out there but they are not perfect. The workflow is somewhat different, and the other things that needs to be pointed out is that although there are some interested painted models, there are many competing technologies like VR, AR, that actually take the place of that. The experience that you get by wearing those glasses and flying through the model will be equivalent to having a physical model in your hands.
This won’t be our number one target market, but as soon as all the assets are there, it will be included in our activities.”
Q: Beyond plastics, which other materials are you starting to consider implementing?
Obviously we are doing plastics today, and we have a roadmap for polymers, but in the lab, using a variation of this approach, we were actually able to do ceramics. And since this was very cool, it opened up new possibilities. It’s like a chicken and egg game where we ask “what applications”? About the metals, the research is still ongoing.
Q: “Have you established a “try before you buy” process?”
A: “We will have everything ready to produce benchmarks for our potential customers, so we’ll have testing units both here and in the geographical location of our potential customers.”
Q: “Are you going to form a dedicated sales force for this, or are you going to utilize parts from other HP’s departments?”
A: “Clients can start experimenting with our process, or they can directly collaborate with us, and depending on the complexity of the composition of the material and its developed characterization, then HP will go to a certification process to ensure that the powder is reliable, and safe, and it’s working well with our machine. After its certified, it’s packaged and sold to our market place.”
Q: “Is this open to any company or even a university?”
A: “The way we are starting, we are starting small and gradual. We have four material partners that we announced today, that we will be collaborating with. That’s going to be followed by a scaling process. Everyone who wants to participate will have to fill in an application, and they are very welcomed to do that as long as they are willing to go through the certification process. We, as HP won’t be biased. We want our customers to have access to a rich set of materials, no matter where they come from.
Q: “Would you be reaching out to the smaller players in terms of engaging them for building a solid PSP network?”
A: “Yes, those exist, those are relatively kind of national footprint, who knows when the industry develops, but if you look at how the graphics industry developed you’ll see some big players and a lot of local players. Many small high-tech service providers. What we haven’t talked about today is essentially the added value on your 3D design. I think a great opportunity for somebody is to really embrace becoming an expert on 3D design, because that is a void right now. I’ll go back to our PSP analogy, and ask you to imagine an industry full of local experts who will be telling you about the best ways to do things. That’s what I think is going to bring real value to service providers. There are 66 parts here that were printed with this machine. Of the 66, over 20 make sense to be printed on a 3D printer, because we have developed them specifically by thinking in 3D.”
Q: “Are there some limits in terms of geometrical possibilities due to the post-processing phase?”
A: “In terms of the type of parts that you can produce inside of our device, there’s only one and its a filled cavity. Other than that, you can do support structures. You can pretty much produce any design, and the throughput is that the outer layers is absolutely in accordance to the complexity and density of the design. This is not true at a lot of other technologies, and not just with metals, but actually with plastics you start running into limitations, you start slowing down, etc. With our machine, if it’s in the bucket, you know the throughput and everything is fully predictable.”
Q: “Is the PA-12 actually stronger than it would be if it would come out of a laser sintering machine?”
A: “If you use the same material, you will always going to have better mechanical properties with the fusion methodology. Now, what we are doing are highly recyclable materials like the PA12 which has low cost (because of its recyclability). In the end, you want to have the best mechanical performance and the lowest possible cost.”
Q: “Why buy version 1.0 and not wait for your R&D team to roll out the next improved model?”
A: “I would present to you the cost of opportunity. Taking advantage of these tools early will give your business a push against competition. Moreover, these tools are far superior than anything that is available in the field today. To get to the second generation, you will have to wait a number of months or even years, and this generation will be far superior to the current tools, and then the same goes for version 3.0 and v 4.0, etc. So, in the end, it’s up to you to decide when is the right time to adopt this technology. Generation 1.0, as we speak, is a fantastic iteration. The cost of opportunity is big for our customers, but it’s huge for services. So if a service company passes the opportunity for let say another two years, it will make them very uncompetitive in their own field.”
Q: Is your current main market focus the people who are already using this technology?
A: “Yes, we want to be pragmatic and when it comes to innovation it really concerns these early stages of engineering (prototyping), but at the same time our vision is that it gets to manufacturing. This market is five billion dollars, and we’re used to deal with markets worth hundreds of billions of dollars. We see 3D printing’s potential of trillions, but in order to get there you need to do something more profound than what is being done today. Again, this is the very, very beginning.”