Since the launch of its long-awaited polymer Multi Jet Fusion (MJF) technology to the world in 2016, the industry has been keeping a close eye on HP’s movements in the 3D printing market. After delivering on an early promise of full colour printing this year, reportedly shipping more plastic production 3D printers that any other company in the world, and as many as 3.5 million plastic parts already manufactured with the MJF process, it seemed as though the next logical step for the printing giant would be to take on metal. At IMTS in September, those inklings were confirmed as the company debuted its latest offering to the additive manufacturing (AM) market, HP Metal Jet.
HP has continuously reiterated its ambitions to infiltrate the coveted 12 trillion USD manufacturing market, a pie which, so far, 3D printing has taken only a very small bite of. Metal Jet is the next step in that mission and aims to deliver mass production of functional end-use metal parts with up to 50 times more productivity compared to current binder jetting and selective laser melting technologies.
Building on its MJF architecture, Metal Jet adopts voxel-level binder jetting technology which uses low-cost off-the-shelf metal injection moulding (MIM) powders and a binding agent to build parts within a bed size of 430 x 320 x 200mm. Once unpacked, these “green parts” are then sintered in a standard furnace to produce high-quality isotropic components which meet ASTM and MPIF standards. Unlike MJF, which was introduced as an end-to-end 3D printing solution including printer and post-processing station, HP hasn’t made any plans to include the necessary sintering hardware in its metal offering. Explaining the decision at TCT Show 2018, Paul Gately, Business Manager, HP 3D Printing UK, said the company is working under the notion that most organisations HP is talking to already have sintering equipment in place and though he suggested HP may offer its own solution in time, right now it’s a case of, “why re-invent the wheel?”.
Speaking in more detail, Tim Weber, Global Head of 3D Metals, HP told TCT: “HP’s Multi Jet Fusion offers a uniquely holistic, end-to-end 3D manufacturing solution that delivers its advantages on a single platform, from prototyping to mass-production. In much the same way we’ve accelerated the path to 3D mass-production of plastics, we’re doing the same with the $1 trillion global metals market with Metal Jet, where we see the industries within it like automotive, medical, and heavy industry ripe for transformation.”
HP has made its intentions clear; it is targeting mass production. In doing so, it is starting by forgoing those high value metals such as titanium which are commonly processed on laser-based AM systems for specialised production, and initially offering stainless steel, a material of which there are 1,700 million tonnes already used in production worldwide. HP describes steel as “the backbone of modern industry” applied commonly in industries such as medical, automotive and industrial equipment, three areas which HP is steering towards in its initial launch alongside manufacturing partners GKN Powder Metallurgy and Parmatech.
“The world runs on metals—billions of metal parts are manufactured each year, the largest portion of them for the auto, industrial, and medical industries,” Weber explained. “Until now, metal 3D printing has been relegated to low-volume and expensive specialty applications, but we’re at the tipping point of a burgeoning new era of 3D mass-production. In partnering with global manufacturing leaders GKN Powder Metallurgy and Parmatech, HP Metal Jet will have an immediate and massive impact on the factory production of final parts for customers like Volkswagen, Wilo Group, Okay Industries, Primo Medical, and many more.”
Partner GKN Powder Metallurgy produces more than three billion components annually for industrial and automotive applications and expects to print millions of production-grade HP Metal Jet parts for its customers as early as next year. Volkswagen, no stranger to 3D printing having already adopted Ultimaker’s desktop printing on the production line, is assessing Metal Jet for the manufacture of mass-customisable parts such as key rings and is looking towards leveraging the technology for the mass production of fully-certified lightweight metal components for new product lines as part of a multi-year plan. GKN is also leveraging the technology to produce cost-effective industrial parts with higher hydraulic efficiency for Wilo, a global leader for pumps and pump system solutions. For Parmatech, a leader in metal injection moulding for medical and industrial sectors, the company believes Metal Jet represents the “first truly viable 3D technology” for industrial-scale metal part production.
“The immediacy, scalability, and quality of Metal Jet were all factors in aligning with these industry leaders and their customers, for whom we expect to print millions of production-grade parts as early as next year,” Weber continued. “Beyond that we also launched the Metal Jet Production Service, which allows customers worldwide to iterate new 3D part designs, produce final parts in volume and integrate Metal Jet into their long-term production roadmaps with direct support from HP.”
Those hoping to get their hands-on Metal Jet are in for a bit of a wait as HP has slated 2021 for when we can expect to see the machines become widely available. In the meantime, the Metal Jet Production Service has been launched to enable potential customers to try out the technology for themselves while HP gears up to begin shipping systems, which can be pre-ordered now priced at 399,000 USD, to early stage customers in 2020. Customers can register to the platform where they will be able to upload their files, get a design compatibility check and receive parts produced by HP’s production partners. Though the company was unable to disclose any current order figures to TCT, Weber confirmed they’re already “off to an amazing start.”
“We’re thrilled with the market response to the launch of HP Metal Jet and the excitement surrounding a disruptive new solution with the advanced technology, breakthrough economics, and high-quality output that is making the dream of global-scale 3D mass production of metals a reality.”