How HP wants to change the world, with 3D printing

By: | Published: March 7, 2016 12:10 AM

The world’s largest startup, as the tech giant likes to call itself, is developing innovations in 3D printing, which has been on the sidelines of both consumer and commercial technology for a few years now

Hewlett-Packard (HP) is at present undergoing the biggest transformation in its history at the end of which it hopes it will have turned technology, and the rest of the world, on its head. The world’s largest startup, as the tech giant likes to call itself, is starting out on a new path of discovery and innovation. “What we are driving for the next 75 years of HP is towards a vision we called blended reality, melding the physical with the digital, and doing it is a virtuous cycle,”explains Shane Wall, the chief technology officer of HP who also runs HP Labs. In fact, HP Labs is developing the innovations that will go after the five big investments the company is banking on for the future—3D printing, immersive computing, hyper mobility, IoT and smart machines.

The biggest impact could come from 3D printing, which has been on the sidelines of both consumer and commercial technology for a few years now. HP hopes to bring the mass level customisation that helped its transform printing in recent times to 3D printing as well. “What we have is technology that is absolutely disruptive for 3D. We announced it last year and it is called Multi Jet Fusion. It is built on all of our print technologies and the 4,000 patents we have on our Inkjet Pagewide Array technology,” explains Wall.

He says 3D printing today has four barriers and this technology will try and overcome those. “3D printing is slow, it is expensive, it produces parts that are poor quality and it is a closed ecosystem. We are going to change that and address all four of these,” says Wall.

“One, it will be at least 10 times faster, in some cases up to 100 times faster.

Second, and it will be at 20% of the cost. Third, it will be at much higher product quality at the voxel level (a bit like pixels). Finally, we will do it on a open platform so that people can add their own software or materials,” he says. What this will mean, according to HP, is that their version of 3D printing will produce the most strongest, lowest cost and innovative products.

Since this is at the basic voxel level, the colours go all through and there is the possibility of changing all characteristics from texture to consistency and smoothness of the products on demand, says Wall, showing a miniature 3D printed guitar with actual strings. “We believe this technology will radically change manufacturing. We will move from the world of traditional manufacturing where you stage in raw materials, automate and store products for retail, into a world where we design instantly or customise an existing design and print it out on demand,” says Wall. “That is very relevant for India, especially with mass urbanisation. 3D manufacturing addresses things like the need to haul in big material making it very relevant for the emerging markets.”

HP’s first 3D printing products based on Multi Jet Fusion will start shipping in the Fall of 2016. “It will focus on thermal-plastics. It will start with black and we will add colours. So all this is very real,” he says, adding how this is a 30-year vision that will radically change manufacturing.

HP is also looking at how this radical thinking can have an impact in IoT too. “We will do all the traditional IoT things, but what we think is more exciting is the Internet of All Things. What I can do now is print into these objects physical markings that are not visible to the naked eye, but can track this part and secure the supply chain,” Wall adds. “This is where it will get very interesting. We are actually mapping physical objects to digital services with our embedded technology.”

Wall expects there to be a transformation time. He thinks the first products will go for prototyping, followed by low volume, high value manufacturing space like automotive and aerospace. “Overtime we are going to see an interweaving of traditional manufacturing with new additive techniques,” he says, explaining how for instance you will no longer need to keep an inventory of spare parts decades down the line and will be just able to 3D print the same from the design.

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