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HP has emphasized a focus on speed, quality and cost for its first 3D printer, and those same characteristics are what convinced it to build it for the enterprise instead of consumers, senior vice president of Inkjet and Graphics Solutions Steve Nigro said in a webinar Thursday.
Building a machine for less than $500 calls for simplifying it down as much as possible, which he said would make it impossible for a desktop machine to put out detailed prints.
Instead, HP is targeting enterprise businesses and service providers that not only want to print prototypes–the traditional use for 3D printing–but also print custom, final parts.
Nigro could not say exactly what the printer will cost, but compared it with professional printers that run from $100,000 to $1 million. He said HP will offer its option at a “compelling price point.” Eventually, it will also offer printers in other forms for different applications, as the printer’s technology is supposedly fairly easy to adapt to new machines.
The webinar clarified exactly how the printer works. HP examined many potential technologies but came back to the inkjet it already used in its 2D printers, Nigro said. But instead of just ink, four materials are involved in the printing process.
First, a powdered plastic is placed on the print bed. A “fusing agent” is then applied to where the powder needs to be hardened. A “detailing agent” is also applied to areas that need special care; for example, it can keep a corner sharp and smooth. The last step is a heat source that causes the agents to react with the powder, hardening it. Nigro said the system causes the layers to bond more strongly than other 3D printing tech.
The inkjet print head that passes over the print bed to lay down the different components is as wide as a piece of paper, allowing it to deposit 350 million drops per second at an accuracy of 21 microns. More nozzles can be added to make the print head larger.
“There really is no limitation to how wide we could go,” Nigro said. “We rapidly go across that fresh layer … fuse it, define the edge.”
He showed off a few pieces printed on prototype HP printers, all of which were full color. HP’s first machine will only print in black, but Nigro confirmed that eventually its machines will utilize CMYK printing–the cyan, magenta, yellow and black inks that currently allow some 2D printers to produce full color palettes.
And while it is also planning to get into customized material properties such as texture, friction, strength and elasticity, HP is facing the same hurdles as the rest of the industry: There is currently no standard way to represent those characteristics in design programs, making it difficult to get a part with a custom composition to the printer.
“We’ll be sitting here 10 years from now and what will happen will be, I doubt we’ll have been able to predict it,” Nigro said.