Why has HP put so much effort into 3D materials development?

HP has always been a leader in the 2D printing arena. One of its strategies to expand and grow has been its proprietary nature in its toner and ink supplies. If you get right down to it, with over two-thirds of its printing revenue coming from consumables, proprietary has been a very good strategy. That is why the company has gone to such great lengths in protecting its intellectual property from pirates and counterfeiters with the tag line, “Recognize. Report. Prevent.”

With this as the backdrop, it was quite surprising to most 3D analysts when HP announced its highly anticipated Multi Jet Fusion (MJF) 3D system last year with an open materials platform. As a matter of fact, when HP held its first public showing of it 3D Open Materials and Innovation Lab, two of the three executives spoke specifically on its open materials strategy (Fabio Annunziata) and on HP’s material science (Mike Regan) see Figure 1 and Figure 2.


Figure 1HP Executives (L-R) Fabio Annunziata, Time Weber, and Mike Regan


Figure 2HP 3D Open Platform

During the grand opening, Dr. Tim Weber, HP Global Head of 3D Materials and Advanced Applications, indicated in his presentation the 3D printing market is expected to grow at a 30 percent clip through 2021 with revenue of $18B. Currently, HP has a total addressable market (TAM) of $8B mainly in plastics. However, HP is looking far beyond the 3D printing market. Its “focus on cross-industry collaboration at the new lab is meant to spur innovation and speed time-to-market (and crack the $12 trillion manufacturing industry) with new 3D printing materials and applications.”

HP’s vision is to replace injection molding machinery on factory floors with 3D equipment that can produce higher quality parts up to 10 times faster and half the cost of prior 3D equipment. Materials are currently designed to meet ASTM injection molding standards which also confirms that HP has a much larger vision than just disrupting the 3D printing industry.

One of the major steps to gaining ground in the 3D market is to have new materials developed in a process like “open innovation” where industrial and academic minds meet to develop new products. To do this, HP recognized it had to come up with a way where chemical and materials companies could develop new materials suitable for HP’s MJF technology. In collaboration with SIGMADesign, it created the industry-first Materials Development Kit (MDK).

HP now has a pathway to work toward material certification by its partners. The MDK represents the primary steps for partners to gain HP certified materials development. By having the MDK, pre-certification can now be performed at the partner’s development location rather than in an HP lab (see Figure 3).

Figure 3 – SIGMADesign Materials Development Kit               Source: SIGMADesign

Ben Mergen, product designer from SIGMADesign, who worked on the MDK, made an astute observation: “HP is like Uber, it has turned manufacturing on its head. “He believes the timing is great, new engineers are not bound by past design rules using HP’s MJF printers. HP is allowing companies to embrace 3D printing by making hardware pricing lower than the competition and being able to help drive the cost per part down. Ben’s boss, Bill Huseby, president and CEO of SIGMADesign, prepared Figure 4 to demonstrate the advantages of HP MJF technology. In almost every category – strength, speed, and finish, the HP MJF is superior. Add in pricing and a customer has the best of four worlds.

Figure 4 – SIGMADesign Comparison of 3D Technologies to HP MJF         Source: SIGMADesign

Our View

HP has delivered on a good portion of its ‘campaign promises’ as far as speed and cost reduction related to its 3D printers. On the materials side, HP is using entirely powder-based materials, primarily thermoplastics in the polyamide family. Its strategy is to accelerate 3D market expansion through materials innovation is sound and its open approach (both materials and software) is a thoughtful combination of leveraging what the company is good at, which is putting complicated, high-tech precision systems together.

HP is using its 2D printing technologies, knowledge, and heritage in a great way. Its strategy to crack the $12 trillion manufacturing industry with its 3D printers seems to be a pipe dream, but HP has done it before with calculators, inkjet printers, graphic printers, and MPS.

Having a common “enemy” like taking manufacturing share from injection molding firms, will help HP’s 3D organization focus on coming up with use cases and driving advanced applications that will drive the scalable adoption of Digital Manufacturing.

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