HP Inc has unveiled its new Metal Jet additive manufacturing technology, a 3D printing system designed for the mass production of metal parts.
Similar in operation to the company’s Multi Jet Fusion technology for plastics manufacturing, Metal Jet is a voxel-level binder jetting system that creates parts from a bed of powder, using metal in this case instead of polymers. Six printer heads precisely print binding agent to the metal powder on each pass. As layer upon layer is laid down to define the part, an energy source removes excess liquid and cures the part as it grows. Once complete, the ‘green part’ is then removed and finished using a standard sintering technique, while the remaining metal powder in the bed can be processed and reused. For now, the technology has been optimised for stainless steel, but the technology may be adapted for additional metals in the future.
The production bed of the machine measures 430 x 320 x 200mm and can accommodate multiple small parts or single larger components. According to HP, its Metal Jet technology is 50 times more productive than existing binder jetting and laser processes and has a significantly lower cost.
“We are in the midst of a digital industrial revolution that is transforming the $12 trillion manufacturing industry,” said Dion Weisler, president and chief executive of HP Inc. “HP has helped lead this transformation by pioneering the 3D mass production of plastic parts and we are now doubling down with HP Metal Jet, a breakthrough metals 3D printing technology.
“The implications are huge – the auto, industrial, and medical sectors alone produce billions of metal parts each year. HP’s new Metal Jet 3D printing platform unlocks the speed, quality, and economics to enable our customers to completely rethink the way they design, manufacture, and deliver new solutions in the digital age.”
The product launch took place at the 2018 International Manufacturing Technology Show (IMTS) in Chicago and the technology is already being deployed via a partnership with GKN Powder Metallurgy, with customers so far including Volkswagen and Wilo. A Metal Jet Production Service is set to come online in the first half of 2019 which will allow users to upload 3D CAD files and have them manufactured in production runs.
In a virtual press briefing that took place ahead of the launch, Dr Tim Weber, HP Inc’s global head of Metal 3D Printing, told the media that the breakeven point for bulk runs of some parts will be as low as 55-65,000. The company says finished parts will meet or exceed ASTM and MPIF Standards. For customers looking to acquire the Metal Jet hardware itself, it should become publicly available in 2020, priced at around $399,000 (approx. £300,000) per unit. According to Dr Martin Goede, head of Technology Planning and Development at Volkswagen, the technology could have major implications for automotive manufacturing.
“A single car consists of six thousand to eight thousand different parts,” he said. “A big advantage of an additive technology like HP Metal Jet is it allows us to produce many of these parts without first having to build manufacturing tools. By reducing the cycle time for the production of parts, we can realise a higher volume of mass production very quickly. That’s why HP’s new Metal Jet platform is a huge leap forward for the industry.”