One of the most widely used technologies in the world – the thermal Inkjet – came to be some 30 years ago thanks to engineers at HP’s 145-acre Corvallis, Ore., site. The technology, which uses heat to force tiny drops of ink through a specialized nozzle and onto paper, today is the dominant type of printing in people’s homes and offices.
It’s no surprise, then, that Corvallis is also home to some of the most advanced 3D printing technologies being developed by HP with the end goal of fostering a partner-driven, open materials marketplace to accelerate the creation of production-ready 3D printed parts.
At an event for technology press and analysts this week, HP gave behind-the-scenes tours of its new 3D Open Materials and Applications Lab, a 3,500 square-foot space where 3D materials partners can jumpstart product development, test new materials and get real-time feedback from engineers.
The focus on cross-industry collaboration at the new lab is meant to spur innovation and speed time-to-market (and crack into the $12 trillion manufacturing industry) with new 3D printing materials and applications that are reliable, safe and affordable.
“We are convening the world’s leading materials companies and empowering them to disrupt and innovate,” said Tim Weber, Global Head of 3D Materials and Advanced Applications and general manager of the Corvallis site. “It will be exciting to watch as these companies test the limits of the HP Open Platform. The ability to create new materials more quickly, and to easily iterate and improve those materials, will lower costs and accelerate the digital reinvention of manufacturing.”
A grand opening for a grand idea
To commemorate the new lab, HP Corvallis hosted a two-day event, which kicked off with a dinner and roundtable and includes topical discussion panels from 3D printing experts and partners.
The lab opening comes just shy of a year after HP announced its Multi Jet Fusion technology and its first commercial 3D printers. Geared toward replacing injection-molding machinery on factory floors, the solution can produce higher quality physical parts up to 10 times faster and at half the cost of earlier systems.
In Corvallis, the new lab builds upon a long legacy of innovation. It’s already home to a high-tech research and industrial grade production facility where material scientists design, test and build print heads, silicon wafers and the thermal Inkjet printer heads.
The new 3D materials and applications lab will be a proving ground for HP’s 3D print technology and its initial partners, who can use the lab space to test new, powdered raw materials to use in HP’s 3D printers.
“In order for 3D printing to go mainstream, you need the materials piece to take off with the technology or the ecosystem won’t flourish,” HP’s Weber said. “We want materials companies to work with their customers and drive innovation on our platform.”
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 limitless.
Partnerships key to market growth
Faced with such a complex undertaking, HP is looking to partners for help. When companies develop new products, they typically engage with materials suppliers for the testing and prototyping of specialty applications. There are thousands of them, many of which are proprietary formulations.
According to Weber, it’s a win-win: partners can solve customer problems using 3D print technology while HP expands its materials library. Partners send engineers to work in the lab on HP’s tools and printers, who will return with what they learned to iterate on the materials in rapid development cycles.
“There’s no way that HP itself can develop and certify the some 30,000 materials made by all the materials companies in the world,” said Weber. “Working together in a hands-on, agile development environment enables us to test and certify materials that are compatible with our Multi Jet Fusion technology.”
From prototype to factory floor
HP aspires ultimately to open a materials platform so customers can have an experience similar to an app store, where they have variety of certified materials to choose from. In October, Evonik became the first partner to announce a certified material.
But materials are just one piece of the 3D printing puzzle, according to Weber, it’s about changing more than 70 years of entrenched business practices and behavior in the manufacturing industry. Driving materials innovation enables HP to demonstrate that 3D printing can replace this traditional manufacturing model by lowering costs and meeting or exceeding existing standards for quality and reliability.
“We must rethink the entire lifecycle of a manufactured part, from design to delivery, he said.