HP’s 3D printing technology is reinventing a lot of industries – such as manufacturing and healthcare--- but the one closest to my heart is the auto industry.
This week, I’m off to my old stomping grounds of Detroit to speak at the Society of Plastics Engineers’ Auto EPCON conference, showcasing developments in the design, materials, processing and use of engineering plastics in the global automotive industry.
This is where automakers and their suppliers hear about the latest advances in thermoset and thermoplastic engineering polymers—that’s heat-machined plastics for the average person—where new developments in materials science and 3D printing are changing the way automakers design and manufacture cars.
In my presentation on the “HP 3D Printing Technology for Prototype and Production Applications”—bear with me if you aren’t a plastics geek—I’ll talk about all the new things automakers can do with the HP Jet Fusion 3D Printing Solution, which delivers better quality parts up to 10 times faster and at half the cost of existing commercial 3D printer. For an industry as cost conscious as automotive, that’s a huge value proposition.
There are big opportunities here for HP and for automakers. The auto market spent about $600 million on additive manufacturing in 2016, and that figure is expected to grow to $2.3 billion in 2021, according to SmarTech Publishing.
3D printing has the potential to impact safety and driver experience in addition to helping the manufacturers be more efficient and economical. The ability to design at the voxel level and produce auto parts like never before may enable more resilient, dynamic parts that can better absorb an impact or lead to other improvements compared to traditional methods of manufacturing.
On-demand parts and machine tools
We’re still far from the day when you can walk into a dealership and have the car you want printed while you wait, but automakers can already see the benefits of custom part printing, rapid prototyping and production tooling.
3D printing can drastically shorten the lead time to design new cars and update current models with an on-demand model. This shortened design cycle also enables designers, engineers and carmakers to quickly test and refine new designs with a wider variety of prototypes before they go to mass production.
Manufacturers will also be able to produce tools on-demand. BMW, an HP Multi Jet Fusion customer, already claims to have reduced tooling costs by 58 percent and project time by 92 percent in this Deloitte University Press report.
The idea is that automakers can make completely unique parts, on a mass scale, with minimal waste. They can wait until there is a demand for parts and then produce on demand, minimizing waste or surplus and avoiding the need to make expensive molds for a low-volume part.
In the not-too-distant future, we’ll be talking about custom printing entire vehicles for different types of customers. Taking the family skiing? 3D print a four-wheel drive vehicle with room for snow gear. Commuting alone for long distances? Print a small, high-mileage vehicle.
Building the materials ecosystem
But the printers are only part of the equation. With HP’s Open Materials Platform, we’re tearing down the barriers to 3D print adoption across industries through materials innovation. Manufacturers can be confident that compatible, HP-branded materials will be safe and meet quality standards.
Earlier this year, HP opened the doors to the world’s first 3D Open Platform Materials and Applications Lab, in Corvallis, Ore., where engineers are using state-of-the-art equipment to help materials companies develop, test, certify and deliver the next generation of materials and applications for 3D printing.
Currently, HP is working with four of the world’s leading materials companies to co-develop new materials and refine the materials certification process, but will continue to add partners to the program. Arkema, BASF, Evonik and Lehman & Voss announced their commitment to the HP Open Platform and are working on certified materials for the HP Jet Fusion 3D 4200 and HP Jet Fusion 3D 3200 printers.
HP Multi Jet Fusion technology sets the stage for future platforms that could transform color, texture, and mechanical properties at the “voxel” level—a 3D unit of measure that’s just about 50 microns, the width of a human hair. Manipulating printing materials could create 3D printed objects with conductivity, flexibility, embedded data, and translucency—and that's just the beginning. The possible combinations and potential applications are as limitless as the open road.