Are these the 3D printers that will disrupt manufacturing?

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Are these the 3D printers that will disrupt manufacturing?

HP is releasing “the world’s first production-ready commercial 3D printing system” that uses a radical new technology.

The company says its HP Jet Fusion 3D printers deliver superior quality physical parts up to 10 times faster and at half the cost of systems using current-generation 3D printing technology.

Pundits like Gartner’s Research Vice President Pete Basiliere have predicted that as 3D printing technology matures it will shift from being a useful tool for prototyping to a genuinely disruptive technology in manufacturing and other industries.

HP’s technology could bring those predictions closer to reality. Called Multi Jet Fusion, the technology is more similar to inkjet printers than traditional 3D printers. Instead of laying down layers of melted plastic or solidifying resin using lasers, HP’s system first prints a layer of powder, then uses an inkjet-style array to add a chemical agent that fuses the powder to the previous layer.

HP says its systems are the first 3D printers to make functional parts at the individual voxel level (a voxel is the 3D equivalent of a 2D pixel in traditional printing). As a result, its systems can print at 30 million drops per second per inch – that's 340 million across the full bed of the printer.

Due for release later in 2016 and in 2017, the HP Jet Fusion 3D printers are designed for 3D prototyping service bureaus and small manufacturers – and they're priced accordingly. HP says American pricing for the entry-level model will start at US$130,000, or US$155,000 with the processing station. 

Right now, the HP systems can only print in one colour and from a single material – thermoplastic – but the company plans to increase its palette of materials and colours.

HP has opened up its materials and software platform to enable partners to add support for new materials, via a 3D material app store, and develop new applications. It’s collaborating with software partners such as Autodesk and Siemens.

The company’s future roadmap includes 3D printing with embedded sensors for Internet of Things applications.

Additional reporting from

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