3d printingLast month, Ford announced that it would be testing 3-D printing technology for manufacturing car parts so it could create customized cars and test new designs. A San Francisco startup recently built a 400-square-foot home in less than 24 hours for about $10,000 using 3-D printing. An Albuquerque Veteran’s Affairs hospital is using their 3-D printer to create customized assistive devices, such as joystick toggles for motorized wheelchairs. Walter Reed National Military Medical Center has a 3-D printer capable of building titanium replacement joints based on diagnostic imaging. MIT researchers are using 3-D printing to create robotic skin with sensors that enable it to react to its environment.

These are just a few examples of how far 3-D printing has come in a very short time. Although 3-D printing has been used since the 1980s to develop prototypes and concept models, technological advances and lower prices have caused the market to explode since 2009.

3-D printing is a manufacturing process that creates a three-dimensional, physical object. First, computer-aided design is used to create a digital model, which is sliced into thin cross-sections or layers by “slicing software.” Each layer is typically about .1 millimeters thick. Starting at the bottom, layers are printed one on top of the other and joined together until the digital model is complete. The material used in 3-D printing depends on the printer and use case. A smaller 3-D printer might print, melt and build plastic, while a larger industrial 3-D printer may use metal, sandstone or alloys.

Standards have been introduced to define seven primary 3-D technologies. Material extrusion, the most common 3-D printing process, produces a semi-liquid material that is heated to create a molded object. The material is usually a thermoplastic that can be mixed with other materials such as metals and carbon fiber, but material extrusion can also involve concrete, clay and even food. Some 3-D printing technologies use lasers and other light sources such as ultraviolet light to solidify layers. Others build powder layers by spraying a binder to each layer or using a laser or heat to selectively fuse layers together. Sheets of paper, plastic or metal can be layered together to created colorful, 3-D models.

HP is accelerating innovation in 3-D printing for manufacturing with the new HP 3-D Open Platform Materials and Applications Lab. This high-tech facility is designed to enable the development, testing, certification and delivery of new 3-D printing materials and applications. Partners will have access to equipment and in-house expertise to support their 3-D printing initiatives.

The HP Jet Fusion 3-D Printing solution is a production-ready, commercial 3-D printing system capable of producing physical objects up to 10 times faster than competing systems at half the cost. HP Jet Fusion 3-D Printers can use the industry’s first 3-D printing Material Development Kit (MDK) to simplify material testing and certification. The MDK is an integral component of the new HP open platform strategy.

ProSys is an HP Platinum Partner with extensive training and experience with HP solutions. Let’s discuss how your organization can use HP’s 3-D printing solutions to develop and test complex, customized items at a lower cost.

By Allan Doehler, ProSys Business Development Manager