HP Storms into 3D Printing with Massive Partnerships in Tow
Michael Molitch-Hou posted on May 20, 2016 | 9577 views

The biggest 3D printing news of the week, year and possibly decade is the entrance of HP Inc. into the 3D printing space. While the exact impact of the company’s Multi Jet Fusion (MJF) technology is still a huge unknown, it is unique, to say the least, and potentially a game changer, to say the most.

ENGINEERING.com was provided a preview of the technology in advance of its release and all of the details about MJF and HP’s open materials platform can be found here. In addition to the big unveil, however, was news of HP’s big and important partnerships with Nike, Johnson & Johnson and Shapeways.

HP’s First MJF Customer

To start, 3D printing service bureau and marketplace Shapeways was announced as the first company to receive an early prototype of the MJF machine at its facility in Eindhoven, The Netherlands. Shapeways will give its community of designers and customers access to the MJF platform and its black nylon material, the only material currently available with HP’s technology.

HP's Virginia Palacio and Shapeways’ Vice President of Manufacturing Stefan Rink with the first production-ready HP jet fusion system at Shapeways’ facility in the Netherlands. (Image courtesy of Shapeways.)
HP's Virginia Palacio and Shapeways’ Vice President of Manufacturing Stefan Rink with the first production-ready HP jet fusion system at Shapeways’ facility in the Netherlands. (Image courtesy of Shapeways.)

In turn, Shapeways will be able to determine if the technology really lives up to the hype of 3D printing 10 times faster than the selective laser sintering (SLS) printers typically used to print nylon parts. If so, it’s not difficult to imagine a time in the future in which the firm’s existing SLS technology could be complemented or even replaced with MJF systems. Once full-color printing is introduced to MJF, Shapeways' existing ColorJet Printing process for full-color prints could be overshadowed by HP’s technology as well.

MJF Goes Medical

Also coinciding with the news was an announcement that a subsidiary of HP Inc. would be collaborating with Johnson & Johnson Services, Inc. to implement 3D printing technologies for healthcare solutions. The immediate goal will be to create patient-specific, 3D-printed medical devices, while the long-term goal is to apply the technology to the fields of orthopedics, eye health and consumer goods.

Johnson & Johnson has been exploring 3D printing more and more, recently signing a deal with Carbon, another 3D printer company, for research around customized medical devices. They've even been venturing into the field of bioprinting through its pharmaceutical discovery arm Janssen Research and Development (JRD), which partnered with bioprinting firm Organovo to examine the potential for 3D-printed tissue to aid in developing new medications.

HP’s 3D Printing Takes Off Running

Sprinter Allyson Felix’s Nike Zoom Superfly Flyknit, with a custom track spike prototyped with 3D printing. (Image courtesy of Nike.)
Sprinter Allyson Felix’s Nike Zoom Superfly Flyknit, with a custom track spike prototyped with 3D printing. (Image courtesy of Nike.)

Through a partnership with Nike, HP is tackling the activewear market, as well. Nike has been implementing SLS for prototyping purposes for more than three years, demonstrating its use for producing optimized track spikes for sprinting shoes and football cleats. Given HP’s claims that MJF can outpace SLS in a production environment, Nike will see if MJF can outpace SLS on the racetrack and will prototype footwear with HP’s new technology.

Given the amount of exposure MJF received, HP was the clear winner of RAPID 2016 from a media perspective, but whether or not it will win the 3D printing race in the long run won’t be clear until the full potential of the technology is demonstrated on production machines. For now, the tech giant has at least demonstrated that it has brought some powerful partners along to take advantage of that potential when it is introduced to the market.

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