From a purely commercial point of view, the biggest news to come out of the HP Innovation Summit in Barcelona, is that 3D printing services ZiggZagg (Belgium) and IAM 3D Hub (Spain) just bought and installed six and eight HP Jet Fusion systems respectively, while Protolabs upgraded its seven current HP Jet Fusion 4200 systems to the newer 4210 versions for increased productivity.
When HP first announced its 3D printing technology in 2014, the company set out to aggressively enter – and disrupt – the $12+ trillion global manufacturing market. Considering its stake in manufacturing was virtually non-existent at the time, for a company operating almost entirely in the virtual and 2D digital world, it was quite a claim. Today, just four years later, the goal is still far but HP is now fully established as a true technological leader for tomorrow’s digital additive end-to-end workflow. The company’s early vision ts vision is gradually consolidating into clear success cases and increasing multiple system sales.
ZiggZagg, IAM 3D Hub have now joined other services, such as Forecast 3D, Go Proto, Materialise, Protolabs, Skorpion, Sculpteo and Stern that have already integrated multiple HP systems for higher batch end-use part productivity. This trend officially opens the era of multiple production system purchases and lends itself to two considerations: one is that to truly disrupt manufacturing HP will need to be selling 10 to 100 systems at a time, so that goal is still far away. Another is that 10 HP Jet Fusion systems cost under two million dollars, so not that much more than a single large format SLS system used to cost not too long ago. So the revolution is happening and it’s happening fast.
We live in a material world
With the addition of the full color capable 300 and 500 series HP Jet Fusion 3D printers HP’s technology continues to evolve. Although more affordably priced systems are destined primarily to prototyping applications (which – whether we like it or not – continue to represent the primary application for any 3D printing technology), once again HP delivered on its promise. Capabilities may not be exactly what the market expected (full color, affordably priced, multi-material parts) but the market’s expectations are often somewhat inflated. With respect to HP Jet Fusion production systems, one issue that may be slowing down HP’s claim to the global manufacturing market is materials availability, another aspect where the company somewhat fell short of expectations. The market may be wishing for polypropylene, TPU, PEEK, PEKK, carbon fiber, graphene, ceramics and more but the bottom line is that – according to HP’s clients – as much as 90% of their own clients’ AM requirements are fully satisfied by PA12.
Visiting the HP 3D Printing R&D labs – two years after the 2016 HP Jet Fusion initial presentation – it is clear that a lot has changed. What was once just a research lab for single machines capabilities is now a fully integrated end-to-end AM production factory which clearly shows what tomorrow’s AM factories will look like. Rows of several machines, finishing, and powder sieving/recycling stations, lots of vacuum tubes and robotic carts to automatically move print beds from one to the other. No sign of robotic arms and AI controlled computer vision to check out the parts for now but that is probably in a different section.
Mixing things up
That’s a safe assumption since a very significant part of this Innovation Summit focused on immersive computing, mixed reality applications and the integration between 3D vision and 3D printing systems. One is the HP Z VR Backpack, a solution that provides the freedom to move and maintain total immersion with visual performance and docking capabilities that transform it into a manageable, powerful desktop PC experience. The HP Z VR Backpack is a catalyst for more powerful VR experiences across many enterprises and businesses to deliver safe and effective simulated training in dangerous environments, in medical training or for heavy/large equipment operations. Another is the HP Z 3D Camera, which extends immersive experiences available with the Sprout Pro G2 to an accessory that easily attaches to a computer display1 to capture and digitize 3D objects, 2D documents and live video.
As far as 3D printing is concerned, the most relevant mixed reality application presented is the FitStation powered by HP, a platform that delivers custom-fitted and individualized footwear through 3D scanning, dynamic gait analysis and additive manufacturing technologies. Now the Fitstation will be integrated into Materialise’s RSPrint to scale an end-to-end 3D solution to design and manufacture individualized insoles. FitStation uses Materialise’s 3D design and manufacturing software to translate individual biomechanical data into personalized insoles. Insoles can then be securely manufactured worldwide on Materialise’s HP Jet Fusion 3D printers.
Seeing is believing
The bottom line is that HP (like most other companies that are investing in it) believes in AM as the future of manufacturing and seems truly convinced to continue to invest and chase after its initial vision. If any more convincing was necessary, HP’s Chief Technology Officer Shane Wall provided all the answers, in his initial address, focusing on four major “Megatrends”: Rapid Urbanization, Changing Demographics, Hyper Globalization, and Accelerated Innovation. These megatrends are fueled by faster technology advancements and alter how we live, work, and socialize with one another.
A key element fo the Accelerated Innovation megatrend is how 3D transformation, along with the Internet of all Things, and smart machines will harness advancements in computing power, connectivity, and immersive computing to deliver richer experiences, creating the building blocks for tomorrow. The rapid pace of change we are experiencing today will accelerate as we move forward. Mr. Wall demonstrated a clear understanding of the benefits of the use of AM for production of subassemblies and a genuine enthusiasm for the possibilities it holds.
Apply here for the future of manufacturing
For example, the HP Multi Jet Fusion platform enables the design and production of some previously inconceivable applications. During the HP Innovation Summit, HP showcased a variety of additional 3D printing applications across industries including: custom designed helmets for the Pontifical Swiss Guard or a 20 percent lighter bike helmet produced by Syncro Innovation and printed by Sculpteo, on an MJF system (Sculpteo CEO Clement Moreau was also at the Summit to testify on the proficiency of HP’s technology). Other fascinating cases presented included the daVINCI Painting Line Arm, 3D printed by FICEP Steel Surface Systems (FICEP Ss), an Ankle Foot Orthosis printed by UK-based Crispin Orthotics, and a gripper for robots and mounting fixtures produced by Stern 3D, a leading digital manufacturer in Germany with 10 HP Jet Fusion 4200 3D systems in-house.
While we are still at a very early point, HP may have already built up a lead in polymer AM for production that will be difficult to catch up with for its competitors. Not so much the other leading 3D printer manufacturers – like EOS, GE (Concept Laser + Arcam), SLM Solutions, Stratasys 3D Systems or EnvisionTEC – whose technologies are already able to target markets that HP will likely not enter for some time, but for any other major global company already operating in either the digital or manufacturing arenas. While AM will not entirely replace traditional manufacturing methods (at least for the next few centuries), HP’s AM technology is going to take a big chunk out of the $12 trillion traditional manufacturing market much, much sooner.