3D Printing isn’t new, but recent technology presents exciting cutting-edge developments that will transform and accelerate the product development process. Product development, as we know it, is entering a new era. The HP Multi Jet Fusion (MJF) 3D Printer enhances the design process by condensing iteration timelines and allowing more freedom of design. The MJF allows prototyping of hundreds of parts in higher volume to evaluate aesthetics, fit and function, resulting in more rapid product development. This is especially important for innovative companies racing to develop the next advanced product.
Engineers have historically only leveraged 3D printing for prototyping. Now, using HP’s Multi-Jet Fusion Printer, engineers can design and quickly produce real production parts. The MJF’s ability to print quality, custom, functional parts, with engineering grade materials, at speeds up to 10 times the speed of competitive 3D printing solutions, moves us into the digital manufacturing revolution we have been anticipating.
HOW THE MJF PRINTER WORKS
So how does this printer work? HP has leveraged their industry-leading PageWide technology from the 2D space to exponentially accelerate the 3D printing process. First, a material carriage lays down a bed of powder in the printer bed. Next, a separate carriage deposits a fusing agent and a detailing agent in a single pass, outlining the cross sections of multiple parts. The detailing agent acts as a boundary layer between fused and unfused material to hold intricate details on each part’s surface. Lastly, a heat lamp passes over the bed and fuses the layer only where the printer deposited the fusing agent. This process repeats as the bed lowers itself to add the next cross section.
The printer is capable of applying the agents at 30 million drops per second along every inch. It also has the technology to control the properties of each individual voxel. (A voxel is a pixel with volume, narrower than a human hair.) Considering that 1200 voxels can fit in a linear inch in each layer, this allows for incredible customization of parts.
This 3D technology allows for mass production or individual production of quality, reliable parts or prototypes with relatively low cost and quick turnaround time. This is a huge change from classic manufacturing that requires complex tooling, taking weeks to produce batches of non-individualized parts. Consequently, leading industries such as Aerospace, Automotive, Medical, Consumer Goods, and Industrial Machines and Tools are turning to MJF technology to accelerate and improve their product development process. (HP Technical white paper)
ADVANCING PRODUCT DEVELOPMENT
SIGMADESIGN acquired an HP Jet Fusion 4200 3D printer early in 2017. As one of only a handful of HP customers in North America to receive the HP Multi Jet Fusion, SIGMADESIGN is demonstrating the capabilities of the new printer and providing important feedback about how the new technology works. HP and SIGMADESIGN have a long history of working together. The decision to acquire one of the first MJF printers was a natural fit. Additionally, SIGMADESIGN’s expertise in printer electronics and technology provides robust testing of the MJF. As the MJF is used in many different applications from medical to consumer products, SIGMADESIGN learns more about the 3D printer’s capabilities. This new technology is enhancing the way the firm provides concept through production services for clients.
CONCEPT THROUGH PRODUCTION
As an engineering firm that specializes in product development from concept through production, SIGMADESIGN considers the MJF Printer a huge asset to the firm’s offerings. As Bill Huseby, CEO, states, “This investment aligns with our mission to be the best Product Development Services Company in the world by offering solutions from Concept through Production for our clients. We see the addition of this HP 3D print technology as an avenue to design without compromise.” The technology has proven itself to be faster, to produce more reliable parts, and to be more cost-effective than other 3D printing and/or injection molding solutions. With the breadth of project types that SIGMADESIGN works on, engineers are finding its value as a tool in product development.
FASTER DESIGN CYCLE
First of all, the MJF Printer allows a faster design cycle. Engineers can incorporate multiple part iterations within a single build. This allows them to instantly test their part and choose the best iteration. If they need to revise the design, they simply send the modified design to the shop and get their revised part back within a couple days. There is no need to retool. This especially works well at SIGMADESIGN. Because the engineering floor and the shop are under one roof, the printer is constantly accessible to engineers.
The MJF 3D printer also produces stronger, more reliable parts than other 3D printers. This is due to the printer’s interlocking layering technology and reptation process. These give equal part strength in three dimensions, which many other 3D printing technologies cannot. Because the material properties are similar in strength to injection-molded parts, engineers can quickly make parts that meet specifications. The MJF delivers parts that match the properties of production level parts. Therefore, they can be used as “final” parts in products such as automation systems. This influences the engineer’s mindset when it comes to designing prototypes, low-volume production parts or what is called “proto-duction”.
FREEDOM OF DESIGN
Using the MJF also means fewer design constraints. Part density can vary from very thick to very thin while maintaining part integrity. This gives engineers more freedom of design. Mechanical Engineer Nick Buck shares, “MJF technology makes designing so much simpler. I don’t really have to think about what I’m doing. I can build anything. Wall thickness is no longer an issue like it is in injection molding. 3D printed parts can have mechanical properties that injection molding would not allow.”
For example, he adds, “I can now design hinges, moving parts, gaps, and internal passages within one part and have it printed as one part.” Buck is currently working on a fruit-labeling machine which needed an applicator vacuum fitting (see versions of the part below). When he had the part machined, he ran into design constraints on the angle he wanted. He also had to manually seal joints on the part after machining them. Buck then designed and printed the part on an FDM 3D printer. However, this method did not achieve part strength and the porous nature of the material caused air leaks. Printing on the MJF 3D printer did achieve structural integrity. The part held the perfect vacuum Buck was looking for.
In addition to shortened lead times and reliable part production, the 3D printer is also more cost effective than other manufacturing methods. Specifically, 3D printing is the perfect solution to low volume production. Otherwise, the tooling for injection molding would be too expensive. The printer keeps working after everyone goes home. Parts are printed out overnight, maximizing efficiency and decreasing overhead costs. Then, 80% of the powder that is not fused is used again. Reusability of material means savings for clients, less environmental waste, and supports small prototype builds. Finally, since material development is open source, various producers are currently developing new materials. This will result in an ever-growing range of materials at competitive prices. This cost effectiveness makes the MJF Printer the best technology for prototyping and low volume production.
“We’re excited to be the first product development firm in North America to use the HP Jet Fusion 4200,” notes Matt Cameron, VP of Engineering. “The ability to produce parts similar to production-grade quality will allow us to streamline our design process.” Overall, a faster design cycle, quality printing, freedom of design, and economical solutions makes the Multi-Jet Fusion Printer a valuable asset to SIGMADESIGN’s product development offerings.
In addition to the advances already made by this new technology, new capabilities are close at hand. HP is applying its expertise of color science to 3D printing. Just as in 2D printing, where any point on the page may be a unique color, very soon, any point in the 3D part may be a unique color. Other advances include optimizing strength and stiffness in some portions of a part and elasticity in others. Furthermore, the technology could be created to control conductivity in each voxel allowing multiple embedded electronics in each part. It is easy to see how this new advance in 3D Printing will soon be disrupting industries across various product markets.
With new technology advances in 3D printing, concepts that were once only imaginable are now becoming reality. We have already seen dramatic changes to the 3D printing industry recently. We will continue to experience more cutting-edge technologies that boost the design process. As this occurs, SIGMADESIGN’s product development offerings will continue to evolve and expand. We look forward to advancing our expertise in an array of industries as we use HP’s Multi-Jet Fusion printer to accelerate our product development process.