This week, HP named Proto Labs as its first additive manufacturing partner in the launch of its Multi Jet Fusion technology. The collaboration with the rapid manufacturer in Maple Plain, Minn., is part of HP’s efforts to establish a global network of 3D printing service providers.
The new production-grade 3D printing technology from HP builds functioning plastic prototypes and production parts with speed, detailed precision, and consistent mechanical properties, according to HP.
Additive manufacturing has made for the quick prototyping and testing of a physical design, allowing designers to iterate quickly and speed their products’ time to market.
Many—if not most—engineering companies don’t have access to the expensive machines needed for 3-D printing. For this, they turn to an outside supplier like Proto Labs. The additive technique turns out sample parts quickly and at lower cost than conventional manufacturing methods. Additive costs, however, are often much higher than for conventional methods when used for anything beyond small runs, such as for bridging tools, or as a prototyping method.
Whether they need small, thin-walled part is needed, a part with complex geometries, or a large, durable prototype or bridge part, they can have an additive manufactured part or set of parts made quickly and at a lower cost than through conventional manufacturing methods.
But if the company needs a low number of parts that have complex geometries (and durability isn’t a huge factor), additive manufacturing may be the least expensive choice. It doesn’t require tooling or large part runs.
If the company needs a low volume of parts with a straightforward geometry, machining may be the best choice. Machining in this case may need only one setup in a CNC machine and thus be fairly quick to make.
Because of its very nature, printed parts can take any shape. They don’t need to adhere to the lines and curves of the traditionally manufactured parts. For parts with very intricate geometries or curved surfaces that can’t be created through molding or machining, printing is a natural choice.
When choosing an additive manufacturing process, a company will first need to look to the process appropriate for its needs. Stereolithography (SL) produces parts from a wide selection of thermoset resin materials and offers the good feature resolution and a smooth surface finish. It’s a good choice for small parts, for complex geometries, and it’s often used during early prototyping.
For sturdy, accurate parts, the selective laser sintering (SLS) process uses a Nylon-based powder similar to engineering thermoplastics, which allows engineers to submit the prototype to the demanding analyses and tests—such as the stress and strain test that are key before injection molding the part.
Direct metal laser sintering (DMLS) can use most metal alloys, which means prototypes can also be functional; they’re made from of the same material as production components. Another benefit here: the layer-by-layer building makes it possible to design internal features and passages that couldn’t be cast or otherwise machined.
These processes all offer the potential to transition into plastics or metal injection molding when increased production is needed.
The new Multi Jet Fusion technology uses an inkjet array to apply fusing and detailing agents across a bed of nylon powder, which are then fused by heating elements into a solid layer. The technology’s approach to binding powder results in more isotropic material properties, faster build speeds, and, ultimately, lower costs compared to other powder-based 3D printing processes, according to HP.
The company is beginning with two portfolios soon available for purchase: the HP Jet Fusion 3D 3200 and the HP Jet Fusion 3D 4200. Both feature, according to HP, accuracy and detail, thermal control on a voxel-by-voxel basis, up to 10-times faster printing speeds, lowest cost-per-part, material reusability, an end-to-end solution, and open platform. The 4200, set to appeal to higher productivity levels for prototyping and short-run manufacturing needs and geared toward meeting same-day-business demands, additionally features 25 percent faster printing, up to 5-times faster cooling, even lower cost-per-part, customized and advanced print controls, and the ability to add additional parts to in-progress print jobs to meet quick turnaround.
The price point starts at $120,000 with full systems starting at $145,000. Or, you could have parts outsourced by a company like Proto Labs.
With the inclusion of Multi Jet Fusion, Proto Labs now offers five different industrial 3D printing processes, producing plastic, metal, and elastomeric components in as fast as one day.
The company also marries the additive manufacturing and the injection molding process. The supplier provides include quick turnaround time for additive-manufactured parts made of resin, metal, or a material similar to engineering thermoplastics. It can also produce low-volume injection molded parts from engineering-grade thermoplastic, liquid silicone rubber, and metal.