Speaking to IT industry analysts, HP confirmed it aims to start selling a 3D metal printing platform in 2018. The company did not clarify whether HP Metal 3D printing technology will an evolution of its current MJF polymer 3D printing process or something entirely different, other than saying that it will be unique process based on proprietary technology.
As more and more technologies- both polymer and metal – are converging toward an integrated a powder-bed fusion/binder jetting/material jetting process, it is likely that the technology will follow along these lines.
MultiJetFusion itself combines powder bed fusion and material jetting processes. Desktop Metal integrates some features from MJF’s speed into its binder jetting process. Others, like XJet, are integrating metals directly into material jetting through metal and ceramic nanoparticles, for a process that – like binder jetting – requires post process firing. voxeljet’s HSS, on the other hand, implements a process which directly fuses polymer particles, after binding them. The main question is whether HP metal 3D printing will be a more direct PBF process similar to SLM or indirect like Desktop Metal’s (and ExOne’s and Digital Metals’) binder jetting. We think it will be the latter.
“HP has developed a “novel 3D metal approach,” Stephen Nigro, president of HP’s 3DP business, said at the HP Securities Analyst Meeting in Palo Alto, calling it “a major step for HP 3D printing aspiration. While 3D metal printing is now available for more specialized, high-value products, Nigro said HP’s innovations “will transform [3D metal printing] into more mainstream, high-volume production.”
Nigro also told analysts that HP in 2018 intends to bring to market full-color 3D printing, however that was already known and – if anything – represents a minor set back as most in the industry probably expected full color to be available sooner, in a release schedule that HP has otherwise fully delivered on so far. That said, when color becomes available, HP will be the only 3D printing company on the market offering “mechanically robust and fully functional full-color parts.”
HP CFO Cathie Lesjak warned that the 3D printing business is not yet profitable and “still very much in investment mode.”
3D printing, she said, is a long-term priority for the business. “Maybe one of our concerns for 3D is whether you all are going to have the confidence and patience the wait for the results,” she added at the meeting. “It will take time.”
CEO Dion Weisler acknowledged 3D printing may not be materially important for the company’s current revenues. That said, he added, is it “materially important to the strategic direction of this company? Absolutely, yes.” He pointed to the potential for transforming the manufacturing market.