HP hopes its 3D printers will drive the 'next industrial revolution'

HP aims its upcoming 3D printers at the business market

HP wants to drive the "next industrial revolution" and spark a change in the way products are manufactured with its new 3D printers.

The company's first 3D printers will ship later this year, said Cathie Lesjak, chief financial officer for HP, speaking at the Morgan Stanley Technology, Media and Telecom Conference this week.

HP first announced 3D printers in 2014, and is now preparing for the big launch. HP is looking to hire materials experts, mechanical engineers, managers and sales people for its push into 3D printing.

HP has a rich history in printing and is entering a 3D printing market that, over the past 20-plus years, has been marred by support and technology problems. HP wants to make 3D printing quicker, cheaper and faster for businesses.

"We're really not terribly interested in consumer 3D [printing], we're interested in commercial," Lesjak said.

The technology offers several advantages for businesses. Instead of using multiple machines to make a product, businesses will be able to use a single 3D printer to make parts, Lesjak said.

Companies will be able to cut manufacturing costs by making products in-house. With the ability to print parts when needed, companies don't have to worry about holding excess inventory, she said.

NASA is making a rocket engine using a 3D printer, and companies are making car parts and medical equipment.

HP wants to provide a complete set of tools to bring 3D objects to life. Users can create and manipulate 3D objects with the innovative Sprout desktop. HP also wants to enable users to print 3D objects from virtual worlds.

HP's upcoming 3D printer is based on so-called multi jet technology, which mixes conventional 3D printing technology with new techniques and materials. The 3D printing process involves fusing material with a fluid jetted out of the print head. Heat is applied to solidify the 3D object, and another material is applied to enhance the finish. The process is repeated several times.

The HP printer will support advanced inks and materials. It will also use design rules and precision production methods typically applied to integrated circuit manufacturing.

HP's 3D printing technology has its basis in the company's PageWide commercial printing technology. PageWide uses special inks for faster document printing, and will likely expand to include new ink and material for 3D printing.

The excitement around 3D printing peaked in 2014, but has since died down. The stock prices of companies like Stratasys - which owns MakerBot - and 3D Systems have plummeted as those companies focused on the consumer market. That recent history is one reason why HP wants to focus exclusively on the commercial market, Lesjak said.

Many pioneering 3D printing companies like Stratasys and 3D Systems were founded in the late 1980s but saw business take off in the '90s as technologies matured. HP's 3D printers will use a technology called binder-jetting, using ink and colorant to merge and make objects. That technology was commercialized in the 1990s by Z Corp., a company ultimately acquired by 3D Systems.

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Agam Shah

IDG News Service
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