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HP goes after injection molding with boosted efforts in 3D printing

Detroit — Can 3D printing compete on the same manufacturing level as injection molding? HP Inc.'s David Woodlock thinks it can — eventually.

Woodlock, who handles market development for 3D printing at the company's offices in Vancouver, Wash., spoke Nov. 8 at the 2017 Design in Plastics conference about HP's ongoing efforts to grow additive manufacturing into a $12 trillion manufacturing market.

"How do we get out of [3D printing] being 'I can make one part and two parts' into 'I can make 1,000 parts. I can make 10,000 parts. I can make a million parts?' he asked the audience.

Woodlock said it is something HP and other industry stakeholders are going to have to figure out because "it's not really happening today."

"The way we're figuring it out is we are trying, we are learning," he said. "We're failing a lot, but really, most importantly, we're learning from our customers."

HP, which reported sales of $48.2 billion last year, is working with companies across several industries to identify manufacturing problems and find solutions that bring value to the market. In this case, the value happens to be in HP's Multi Jet Fusion technology, which it launched last year.

The technology includes two 3D printer models — HP Jet Fusion 3D 3200 and 4200 — as well as two synchronized tools, the HP Jet Fusion 3D Processing Station with fast cooling and the 3D Build Unit.

"[The 3D Build Unit] is what enables continuous production and allows you to get big throughput advances, your best utilization of capital," he said.

The 3200 is ideal for industrial prototyping and final part production in environments producing 130-299 parts per week, while the 4200 is ideal for producing 300-699 parts per week, the company said.

HP is also working with strategic partners such as BMW AG, Nike Inc. and Johnson & Johnson on rapid prototyping and production using additive manufacturing.

"We realized that manufacturing is not just about the printer," Woodlock said. "Manufacturing is an entire process, an entire workload, an entire end-to-end solution."

Audrey LaForest HP Inc.'s David Woodlock says the company is trying to grow additive manufacturing into a $12 trillion manufacturing market. Start with design

Despite HP's big ambitions to shake up manufacturing, Woodlock was quick to add that competing against a strong technology like injection molding is "really hard."

But if you look beyond the traditional product development cycle and talk with the designer before a product's design is set, he said, then you have more opportunities to explore technology and processes outside of injection molding.

"When we can explore 3D [printing] in the part design phase, we can extract a lot more value," he said. "We can create geometries that fit better."

Woodlock gave a few recommendations for designing for additive manufacturing that could increase quality and repeatability and achieve dimensional stability and higher yields. Best practices such as identifying the build direction, avoiding sudden changes in printed surface area and thinking about packing density can all lead to better parts, he said.

"If we can design out possible failures, we can increase the space where we're able to make good parts repeatedly," Woodlock added.

Woodlock's colleague David Tucker, for instance, has been exploring the Japanese "just-in-time" production system called kanban, which is used by automakers such as Toyota Motor Corp., to have more 3D-printed parts designed and arranged to fit into a build area.

If it's going to take 10 or 11 hours to print a full 16 inches, Woodlock said, why wouldn't you design your build area to fit as many parts as possible?

"With this flexible manufacturing platform, we can create this just-in-time process, and it's also a process that we can control," said Woodlock, adding that the kanban method is a way to control quality and decrease costs.

There is a lot of design freedom in 3D printing, but developing the strategy for manufacturing in the hundreds of thousands is "a continuing journey."

"Just like injection molding or any other process, the more people doing it, the more people will learn, and the technology will get accumulated," he said.

An overnight answer

A day after David Woodlock's presentation at the 2017 Design in Plastics event, HP Inc. announced a new 3D printer model designed for industrial-scale 3D manufacturing environments.

The HP Jet Fusion 3D 4210 model raises the "break-even" point for large-scale 3D manufacturing up to 110,000 parts and offers a 65 percent reduction in cost per part compared with other 3D printing methods, the company said in a Nov. 9 news release.

The 4210 model is ideal for manufacturing environments that produce 700-1,000 parts per week.

"HP's Jet Fusion 3D systems have now reached a technological and economic inflection point that combines the speed, quality and scalability needed to accelerate manufacturing's digital industrial revolution," Ramon Pastor, general manager of Multi Jet Fusion for HP's 3D printing business, said in a statement.

» Publication Date: 04/12/2017

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