But Tim Weber, global head of 3-D materials and advanced applications for the company, said the its latest product is aimed at a bigger market: the $16 trillion manufacturing industry.
“We believe we can transform 3-D printing from primarily prototyping today to manufacturing,” he said.
Weber said Hewlett-Packard Inc., the company that owns the printing part of Hewlett-Packard following the company splitting into two independent entities last year, will bring a new industrial 3-D printer to market this year that can print 10 times faster and at half the cost of other 3-D printers on the market.
Weber talked about the company’s new Multi Jet Fusion 3-D printers at a Chamber lunch, saying that while the printers were designed in Spain, they use printhead technology that was developed in Corvallis.
“We think we’re in a great place to lead the next industrial revolution,” he said.
Weber said typically 3-D printers make things by extruding material from a single point, which he likened to a hot glue gun. According to Weber though, HP’s 3-D printers use printheads based on their ink printers to spray a reacting agent from multiple points onto a nylon based powder and cause the two to fuse into a solid piece by using ultraviolet light to power the reaction.
Weber said this process is faster and allows for manufacturers to customize the material they work with and make parts that are comparable to what could be made through injection molding. Manufacturers interested in customizing the material used in their printer could work with HP in Corvallis to develop a powder that meets their needs.
“Any thermal plastic in the world today can work in our system,” he said.
As an example of what the system can do, he brought in a chain link he said was used to lift a car. According to Weber, the link was printed with a metal- based ink running through it to make a simple circuit that could be used as part of a sensor.
He said the machines will run from around $100,000 to $250,000, and are not intended as a consumer product.
“Right now we’re really going after manufacturing,” he said.
According to Weber, for runs of parts up to about 55,000 units, their 3-D printers would be cheaper than injection molding, which require expensive molds be cast.
Weber was non-committal about whether this new business line would mean new jobs in Corvallis, but said it was possible. But more profoundly, he said the change could shift manufacturing to a more local business:
“You will see a shift to manufacturing back to where you need (the product),” he said.
He added that this could mean new jobs in Western countries, as the machines would need skilled technicians to operate and maintain them.
“Like with a lot of advances, jobs change,” he said.
Weber said beta versions of the printers are already in use, and they will go on the market this year, but he added that they already have a backlog of orders.
“If you want one, put in your order now,” he said.
Weber said the technology could also be scaled up: HP already makes three- meter-wide ink printers, and they could make printers capable of making bigger parts by scaling the 3-D printer up to a similar size.
In the 3-D printing field, he said that HP is trying to leverage its experience in traditional printers developed in Corvallis.
“This is what Corvallis does,” he said. “This is what we’ve done the last 30 years.”