HP’s New 3D Printer: Better, But Still Far From Prime Time

Hewlett Packard’s ambitious effort to remake the industrial 3D printing business is picking up steam with a growing cohort of materials’ collaborators and new equipment hitting the market in March.

A new machine–the HP Jet Fusion 3D 4210—that debuts in March is said to hike the “break-even point” for large-scale 3D manufacturing to 110,000 parts at a cost level hat HP says is as much as 65 percent less than other 3D printing methods.

The “break-even” point, which is a significant upgrade for 3D printing, is based on printing 1.4 full build chambers of parts per day/five days per week over 1 year of 5 cm3 parts at 20 percent packing density on fast print mode using polyproylene and the powder reusability ratio recommended by HP. PP is expected to be commercially available this summer. The model is expected to cost more than $200,000.

Of course, that’s still not prime time industrial speed or size. And it’s still unclear if the mechanical properties would be adequate, or comparable to injection molding. Previous HP 3D parts lacked the isotropic properties (strength in all directions) of injection molding.

That’s the nature of the beast.

In the Jet Fusion process, ink-jet print heads deposit a fusing agent that absorbs heat and another ink that blocks the heat. The part builds with a high-intensity light layer by layer.  In the molding process, parts are formed under high pressures in a mold. The 3D printed part may have less stress, but it’s hard to see how it could ever match the directional strength of a molded part.

It’s also unclear if 3D printing can match—or even come close to matching—the part-to-part repeatability of injection molding, especially for tight-tolerance features. One problem is that it’s a whole new science to get the powders to spread evenly in the bed.  Another issue is that the cost of powders used in 3D printing is significantly higher than the pellets used in injection molding—10 to 20 times higher, in fact. It’s possible the prices could drop some as volumes rise, but materials’ cost is still a huge problem for 3D printing.

The new printer widens the market for 3D printing, but in no way makes a serious intrusion in molding’s turf. It will find its market niche in applications with part requirements that are relatively low. With 3D printing no mold is required, although digital manufacturing by services like Proto Labs are serving that market well with inexpensive aluminum molds.

The big advantage of 3D printing will be the ability to make custom or intricate parts that could not be made with molds. There’s a market for that, but it’s not the mass market. Another factor is that the industrial design community is conservative, and even after decades, many practitioners did not design well for injection molding, let alone 3D printing.

HP also is expanding its Open Materials Platform with new partners Dressler Group and Lubrizol, as well as the addition of polyamide 12 and glass beads for reinforcement and filler.

Other materials’ players include Arkema, BASF, Evonik, Henkel, Lehmann & Voss, and Sinopec Yanshan Petrochemical Co.

Could these new HP 3D printers some day replace a room of injection molding machines?




About Doug Smock

Former Chief Editor at Plastics World and Senior Technical Editor Design News

Additive manufacturing, Polyamides, polypropylene ,

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