HP Tips Its Hand To 3D Printing's Future

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NEW YORK – Hewlett-Packard’s announcement last week that it is planning to enter the 3D-printing space with an ecosystem of products by 2016 was viewed by industry observers as a category placeholder for eventual home-based solutions.

Although its approach is geared more for commercial applications to start, the fact that a huge multinational inkjet-printing company like HP was making the announcement gave the future of the 3D-printing concept a stamp of credibility for the future, observers said.

HP said it developed new 3D-printing technology capable of higher-resolution objects at up to 10-times faster speeds than conventional manufacturing processes, and significantly faster and at less cost than typical 3D-printing solutions announced to date.

The company rolled out its Multi Jet Fusion 3D print technology as part of a blended reality event, which also featured Sprout, an immersive computing platform that can transform the PC into a tool for 3D production.

HP said it plans to use 3D printing to build an ecosystem of products in 2015, with general availability in the second half of 2016.

Stephen Baker, NPD Group industry analysis VP, told TWICE that while HP’s disclosure doesn’t mean a lot for home 3D printing in the near or mid-term, “with HP in the market I think you will see a slow progression and investigation as to what value 3D printing could be in the home. But I think we are a long ways away from general availability of low-cost in-home 3D printing.”

Gartner has forecasted 3D-printer shipments to double each year until 2018, when it should achieve $13.4 billion market status, but most of that activity is channeled through business enterprises, some 60 percent of which are using or exploring the use of 3D printing today.

HP said that in developing its ecosystem, it is working with six customers on 3D-printing innovation and expects to see partners join them in early 2015.

HP’s Multi Jet Fusion technology will use proprietary thermal jet techniques and fusion agents, applying ink to a material coating, then heating and fusing it to build layers, instead of point-by-point like large-format inkjet printers or lasers jets. It is said to jet 350 million drops per second at 21 micron precision, where most personal 3D printers reach around 50 microns today.

HP said its 3D-printing system can produce in three hours objects that can take as long as 83 hours to make with typical “personal” 3D printers today.

HP said that the technology could be used to make product parts at least 10 times faster than conventional manufacturing techniques.

HP’s new 3D-printing unit will be part of HP Inc., the PC and printing division of the company that will be split off from HP Enterprise.

HP sees an opportunity for service bureaus, or centralized 3D-printing stations, that can print parts for consumers and customers.

HP also sees a future in time for personal 3D printers.

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