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Metal 3D Printing Goes Mainstream

HP, 3D printing, metals printing, additive manufacturing, Metal Jet, Volkswagen
With big moves from HP and GE in the 3D printing metals market, additive manufacturing with metals has come of age.

Last month, at the International Manufacturing Technology Show, HP’s 3D Printing Business launched HP Metal Jet—an advanced 3D printing technology designed for the high-volume manufacturing of production-grade metal parts. The HP Metal Jet is being deployed by manufacturers that include GKN Powder Metallurgy and Parmatech for the factory production of final parts. Customers placing orders include global stalwarts Volkswagen and Wilo as well as vertical-market manufacturers, such as Primo Medical Group and OKAY Industries.

The Metal Jet is designed to print production metal parts with speed and reduced costs. (Image source: HP)

The HP announcement comes on the heels of an announcement of a large metal printer by GE Additive at the Rapid + TCT conference in April. GE Additive utilized Arcam to create the Arcam EBM Spectra H—a high-heat 3D printer meant to print with metals prone to cracking. The system is designed to print parts at temperatures exceeding 1000°C, making it a fit for materials like titanium aluminide and Alloy 718, which the system can print at launch. It will be able to support nickel super alloys beginning in 2019. Together, the announcements by HP and GE take 3D metal printing to new levels of capability and cost reduction.

The Arcam EBM Spectra H from GE Additive is designed to produce metal parts at high temperatures. (Image source: GE Additive) 

While HP envisions a wide range of industries potentially interested in 3D metal printing technology, the first targets include three large markets for metal parts. “Metal Jet has implications for all of the industries that comprise the $1 trillion global metals market, but we’re initially focused on the auto, industrial, and medical sectors,” Tim Weber, global head of 3D Metals, 3D Printing Business at HP, told Design News. “Those three industries alone produce billions of metal parts every year and represent a unique opportunity for Metal Jet to drive greater time and cost efficiencies, innovative new design possibilities, and faster time-to-market.”

Customized Metal Parts for Volkswagen

HP is using partnerships to move into the commercial production of metal products. “We’ve partnered with global manufacturing leaders GKN Powder Metallurgy and Parmatech, who are using Metal Jet to produce final, production-grade metal parts for industry-leading customers like Volkswagen, Wilo Group, Okay Industries, and Primo Medical,” said Weber.

HP's Metal Jet is now producing customized metal parts for Volkswagen, include gearshift knobs. (Image source: HP)

As an example, Volkswagen is turning to HP’s metal printer for custom-designed ancillary parts. “Volkswagen is integrating Metal Jet into its long-term design and production roadmap with mass-customized parts like personalized key fobs and exterior mounted plates, functional parts like mirror mounts and gearshift knobs, and future applications for emerging platforms like electric vehicles,” said Weber.

The Inkjet Master Turns Its Focus to Metal

HP dug into its decades-long experience with inkjet printing technology to develop the metals-based printer. “We leveraged our 30-plus years of advanced chemistry and thermal inkjet innovation to develop the HP Metal Jet technology,” said Weber. “As a result, we can bring to market a high degree of advanced 3D metals printing technology for mass production. We see Metal Jet as the lifeblood of the digital factories of the future.”

As well as offering a customizable manufacturing process, Weber notes that Metal Jet’s additive manufacturing system reduces costs. “Metal Jet is a cost-effective solution, thanks to low acquisition and operational costs as well as high-reusability materials via our Open Platform model, which reduce materials cost, consumption, and waste compared to traditional production methods,” said Weber. “Metal Jet combines lower cost, greater speed, higher volume, and limitless design possibilities, which makes it a great technology for the fourth industrial revolution.”

Rob Spiegel has covered automation and control for 17 years, 15 of them for Design News. Other topics he has covered include supply chain technology, alternative energy, and cyber security. For 10 years, he was owner and publisher of the food magazine Chile Pepper.

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