Materials, in a way, could be the App of any 3D printing, at least just as much, or perhaps even more, than software applications can. If so, then HP 3D Printing‘s open materials system will prove of fundamental importance both to the company’s business and the industry as a whole.
Not only that: if we consider that by opening up materials HP has learned from some mistakes made in the past, then the idea of a digital and global materials marketplace seems like HP is learning from winning product launch strategies from the past, such as, for example, that of the iPhone’s and its relative App Store (now a successfully implemented business model in the entire mobile – and even the static – IT industry).
Our original interview with Ramon Pastor (Vice President & General Manager HP 3D Printing) and Alex Monino (WorldWide Marketing Director HP 3D Printers & Sales Strategy Director) just had to start from the new open materials system for HP’s MJF 3D printer.
Davide Sher: How do you envision the digital materials marketplace and is material the “app” of 3D printing?
Ramon Pastor: “The way we envision it, is that if you own an HP 3D printer, you will get into our website, you will put which model you have with its serial number, and then you will be given a choice of materials from HP certified vendors that your machine is compatible with, and then from there you will basically buy the material, and it will go from our supply chain through our reseller network and eventually reach your place. So, if you are a small company who innovates in the field of materials, you don’t need to go global, you just need to get an HP certification and your products can reach customers worldwide.”
Davide Sher: How many material manufacturers do you think there can be?
Ramon Pastor: “Today, plastics is very concentrated in the hands of just a couple but if you think of metals, which is just a fraction of the market size, there are significantly more suppliers. That’s because it’s more open source, and we believe that if we go open source we will generate a lot of interest and innovation to our platform. This sector is basically a big channel today for materials innovation, so there are a lot of startups dedicated to this field. We can help anyone not only innovate, but also to scale up, and to be able to sell their products.”
3DPBizDirect: Are you interested in working together with Universities?
Alex Monino: “The way we’ll manage this is that we will give the MDK (materials development kit) to the big companies. For the others, we will establish a lower level which involves giving them systems so they can test their materials. For everyone else who can’t access even this, we will establish innovation centers in Europe and in the US. These centers will offer equipment that can be used by material developers to conduct testing sessions.
Davide Sher: Is there a time schedule for the material releases?
Alex Monino: We will announce all new materials. Again, we will work with companies which will scale and new materials will appear. The important thing for customers to understand is that this machine is like a living creature. It will start with a set of functionality, and then gradually more capabilities and more options will become available. We will learn from our customers’ feedback, we will identify their needs, and we will provide new solutions. Every time that new material comes out, we will have a setter parameter that will be downloaded by our customers, so they will be able to select this new material and seamlessly use it.
Davide Sher: Do you believe that you’re about to dominate the market, or are you seeing any potential competitors?
Ramon Pastor: The 3D printing market is a market that grows by 30-40% every year. That said, we are not focusing on conquering market share, but more on how to help develop the market faster. So, having competitors is not actually a bad thing at this point because it would basically help expand the market. Our goal is to get a bigger share of $12 trillion dollar global manufacturing market.”
Davide Sher: What are the biggest challenges you’re facing right now?
Alex Monino: We have line of sight, we have the open platform, so the limited materials availability that is currently the case is only temporary. The big challenge is how to grow a market that today is still a very tiny one. How are we going to change the status quo, how will we change the behavior of people all over the world? This is one of the biggest challenges right now.”
Davide Shert: How do you plan to reach Stratasys and 3D Systems customers?
Alex Monino: HP has muscle in that sense thanks to its long and strong presence in the enterprise market. We have ways to reach customers, and we have specialists in place to follow up. Then, there are industry analysts and reporters, and portals like this that can help us deliver our message. As we start working and have success cases, we need to let the people know of these examples. We are planning to start working with companies of all sizes and sectors, so everyone can relate to these success stories.
Davide Sher: HP has some very large customers, do you think they could also start prototyping in-house?
Alex Monino: For the companies that we know that are prototyping, we already came in touch with them and discussed the new opportunities. For very large industrial digital 2D printing customers, like Coca Cola, maybe that could happen when we get more into manufacturing, or maybe when we will have the color capabilities they could use our new machine for prototyping.
Davide Sher: Finally, can you please explain more about your materials modification process?
Ramon Pastor: The way it works is we fuse solid and liquid together into one, and so we can determine the rigidness of a particular material. This way, we determine the content of plastic or binding agents, and when it re-solidifies it becomes as soft as we want it to be. Transparency works the other way around. You could start with a completely transparent material and make it opaque by altering its refraction index. It would also physically be possible to do it the other way around, with the agents, going from opaque to transparent, but I prefer the other way round.