Jan 5, 2016 | By Alec

Since first being announced in 2014, there has been quite a lot of buzz about HP’s intriguing Multi Jet Fusion 3D printing technology. Supposedly much faster than SLS and resulting in superior mechanical properties and excellent multi-color surfaces, it has been eagerly anticipated but is taking a long time to reach that commercial launch. Until now, it was also partly shrouded in mystery, but HP recently revealed more details and addressed some misconceptions about the technology at the Autodesk University 2015 conference in Las Vegas. There, HP further revealed that the first Multi Jet Fusion (MJF) 3D printer will become available in late 2016, but only as a single color machine.

As you might recall, HP’s Multi Jet Fusion technology caused quite a splash in the 3D printing community way back in 2014, and that was hardly surprising. As previously reported, the MJF 3D printing technology will still be used on a large build envelope (around 40 inch or so), and it is indeed tremendously fast: up to ten times faster than existing SLS or FDM 3D printers. The technology revolves around arrays of thermal inkjets that apply liquid agents to increase part strength, giving users a lot of control (in terms of texture, friction, strength and even electrical and thermal properties) over the part and material properties of whatever they’re trying to create.

As Luis Baldez, a software strategy program manager at HP’s 3D printing branch, recently explained to reporters, that unique property control is realized at the voxel level and the MJF technology is the only one currently capable of doing so. "Imagine a product that combines an injection-molded rigid material housing, another part that's made of a rubber-like material, and another that has electronic traces," he said to illustrate the technique. "What if you could print them all in one part with multiple behaviors: soft, rigid, or electrical traces? The long-term vision for HP MJF technology is to create parts with controllably variable, even quite different, mechanical and physical properties within a single part, or among separate parts processed simultaneously in the working area. This is accomplished by controlling the interaction of the fusing and detailing agents with each other, with the material to be fused, and with additional transforming agents."

Baldez further added that several misconceptions are circulating about the technology – in part because people tend to compare technologies. The most important thing to realize, Baldez explained, is that HP owns the complete system of Thermal Inkjet technology and have designed all parts itself, specifically to differentiate them from competitors. This means that their technology contrasts to any other in terms of how they operate and 3D print, and there’s no point in comparing the core technology.

For example, high part strength characteristics are not achieved by sacrificing on detail. "Two common 3D-printing technologies are binder jetting and photopolymerization. People often think that the way binder jetting and photopolymerization work is the way that all 3D printing works. In both those cases, the parts produced may have a good level of detail, but the stability of the part over time varies, depending on the application. But with HP Multi Jet Fusion technology, our target is to provide part quality similar to parts made with injection molding in both strength and surface finish,” he told reporters from Design News.

We should thus see MJF 3D printing as a stand-alone technology, thanks to the proprietary, multi-agent printing process involving Thermal Inkjet arrays that realizes that high speed production. While other 3D printing techniques rely on fusing or curing of materials, which achieve higher speeds by sacrificing on fusing or curing accuracy, MJF doesn’t suffer from these limitations, Baldez says. Instead, the fusing agent is completely separate from the detailing agent, with the latter being selectively applied to wherever it’s needed to reduce fusing to create sharp or smooth edges. The surface is exposed to fusing energy afterwards. Speed is simply increased by using a higher number of nozzles per inch instead of sacrificing on fusing quality.

In a similar vein, Baldez further said there is no relationship between printing speed and resolution either: the one doesn’t have to be sacrificed for the other. "One thing we learned in 2D printing was how to fire drops very precisely at very high speeds, and we've leveraged this expertise in 3D printing," he told reporters from Design News. The MJF printheads have a resolution from 600 dpi up to 2,400 dpi (or equivalent to 42 microns to 11 microns).

In short, MJF 3D printing technology is even more impressive than we previously thought, but there is one unfortunate setback: the first edition of the MJF 3D printer won’t exploit the full capacity of the technology. It was always presented as being capable of creating high quality multi-color objects as well, but Baldez further added that the first generation of the machine will be single color only and will not have that voxel-level property control feature yet. The first 3D printer will be available towards the end of 2016, but no further information was revealed about the size, materials or expected price. Other models will follow every few months.

Watch as a 1/4 lb 3D printed chain link, created using new HP Multi Jet Fusion Technology, lifts a car straight off the ground:

 

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C Patterson wrote at 2/26/2016 10:47:25 PM:

Mr. Obvious, you may have some good points, especially about the dealer infrastructure, but you can't escape the fact that HP still has the dinero and the clout to knock the snot out of many market segments. I personally can't wait for the end of 2016 to see how the 3D world turns. Don't forget rumors still persist about an HP buyout of one the current big dogs. That's a very real possibility. But while we think HP entering the market with a bang is newsworthy, flying under the radar is an elephant in the room: the metal printers' market progress. I think the EOS and the SLMs and Arcams and the Concept Lasers, etc. will be dominating 3D news in 2017. and that means having a good 2016. To date they've barely scratched the surface. And there's a startup in Israel that's doing liquid metal jetting such as Connex does with photopolymers. In fact started by a former Objetter. Fasten the seat belts, this is going to be good.

Mr. Obvious wrote at 2/19/2016 2:05:43 PM:

By the time HP delivers all they've been touting in a single performance platform to the market, prime time *may* have come and gone. End of 2016? And only single color? Without full technological capacity? That's like promising a fine cut of steak for dinner to a teenager and giving him baby food to tide him over and saying don't worry, the steak is coming soon. By that time he's almost an adult and savvy enough to realize his choices of cut, marinade and spices are many, and satisfying. With all the well funded start-ups hitting the streets, and all the advanced R&D the big companies are doing (and believe-you-me, they ARE), I don't think this bodes well for HP vs. their own HyPe. Time is ticking. Market saturation and capital expenditures may continue to bottleneck the industry well into 2017. And there are still very valid questions regarding their dealer infrastructure as relates to 3D printing. If HP doesn't walk their talk a little sooner, they'll find this was a poor gamble indeed. They're looking less like a saviour and more like just another player, big name recognition or not. This is 3D, player. "Yeah, but they're STILL HP!" That matters very little to designers and service beureau ops managers. Name recognition in this space is 3D Systems and Stratasys, and that cannot simply be shrugged off; it must be dealt with. Things are moving swifter in the space (R&D-wise) than most people know. HP better get with it.

Joe Q. wrote at 1/12/2016 4:33:59 PM:

Developing infrared absorbing materials can be challenging. I find it interesting that the demonstration objects in these photos are either all "colors" or all "black". Combining black with colors may be an issue.



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