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A look at the software that powers 3D printing

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Contributed by Gary Dispoto, R&D Manager, Production Automation, Printing and Content Lab

 

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I am a research manager at HP Labs and for the past several months I and members of my team have been working on software and algorithms aspects of HP’s new Multi Jet Fusion™ technology

 

HP Multi Jet FusionTM technology will revolutionize the 3D printing space. How?  HP Multi Jet FusionTM will print parts 10 times faster[1] than current technologies, create parts that provide overall functionality through a combination of precision and strength at breakthrough economics[2].  This is all done by using HP’s swath-wide array printing technology to selectively apply fusing and detailing agents to a powder material and then exposing the material to energy which leads to a thermo-chemical reaction to selectively fuse the material.  High geometric complexity does not add cost and set up times and costs are minimal.

 

Because HP Multi Jet FusionTM can selectively, quickly, and precisely apply a wide variety of agents, we expect that the process will become much more capable over time. Long-term, HP Multi Jet FusionTM will produce parts consisting of multiple and graded materials, properties, and colors.  Our vision includes printing parts that vary in properties such as electrical conductivity, stiffness, strength, transparency, friction, wear, texture, and more.

 

At HP Labs, we are developing the 3D printing physical processes, chemistry, and material sets to enable all of these capabilities.  We also have a team of researchers developing the software and algorithms to make it come to fruition. Software and algorithms may not gain the same attention in the popular press as the hardware and materials, but they play a crucial and exciting role in making the vision into a reality.

 

Software provides all of the system control. For example, everything about what agents to place in what locations and how much energy to apply to the powder bed to achieve optimal fusing is determined by software.  In this regard, our algorithms and process research teams work together very closely to optimize HP Multi Jet FusionTM. The same teams also work together on HP Multi Jet FusionTM process modeling and prediction. Good process models will enable optimal setting of build parameters in order to produce parts with end customers’ desired characteristics. It will enable prediction of whether a particular set of characteristics can be produced within a single part, how to batch parts, feedback to the end customer and operators on final part’s functionality and appearance, and what compensation should be applied to incoming part data in order to achieve  the desired result.

 

For 3D printed objects, we will need to develop the standards, closed loop control, and transformations for color. This is largely analogous to the technology developed over the past two decades by HP and other players in digital commercial print, to move from manually hand-tweaked color to automated color reproduction. Furthermore, for 3D objects, we want to digitally specify and control not only color but also surface properties such as gloss and texture. Additionally, in many cases the customer will need to see a full 3D preview of the final part on an electronic display before signing off on a production run.

 

Production speed is another very important parameter. HP CEO Meg Whitman has compared 3D printing to watching ice melt and she’s right – most processes are very slow. HP Multi Jet FusionTM will shorten cycle times considerably, but further improvements are possible through the use of multiple forms of parallelism and sophisticated production design and management. In most cases, multiple parts will be packed into the build volume. Smart optimization algorithms can be applied to serialize incoming orders, schedule production, determine flow through the factory, batch and orient parts, and allocate production resources such that both final part characteristic and SLA (on time delivery) requirements are met. The Internet of Things will come into play here too, as real-time sensing and monitoring will enable closed loop control at both the machine and factory level. The data collected through such systems will allow for both real-time optimization and better long term planning.  

 

On the design side, CAD tools which can check for part manufacturability using 3D printing processes will enable design for efficient manufacturability. This will require communication standards and processes between manufacturing and design. We are working both internally and with industry partners to develop the part representations and file formats to enable the unambiguous specification capabilities that I mentioned above, as well as efficient storage and processing of those files as they progress through and are manipulated by the production processing pipeline. We are a founding member of the 3MF Consortium along with industry players Microsoft, netFabb/FIT, Dassault Systems, SLM, and Shapeways. The intent of the consortium is to define and drive adoption of openly available 3D interchange and print formats across the 3D Printing / Additive Manufacturing industry. We have also announced a partnership with Autodesk to integrate the Spark platform with HP Multi Jet FusionTM in order to change the way we design and produce parts.  Our goal is nothing short of driving the next industrial revolution.

 

It is an exciting time to be a member of the 3D print lab at HP Labs!

 

 

[1] Based on internal HP testing of part build time, for a set of representative parts in batch process comparing HP Thermal Inkjet based Multi Jet FusionTM technology to the leading 3D printing technologies in the U.S.— selective laser sintering (SLS) and fused deposition modeling —as of October, 2014.

[2] HP Multi Jet FusionTM technology leverages proprietary HP Thermal Inkjet technology, enabling lower cost systems that output similar quality to more expensive devices — such as selective laser sintering (SLS) — and speed.

 

This blog post contains forward-looking statements that involve risks, uncertainties and assumptions. If such risks or uncertainties materialize or such assumptions prove incorrect, the results of HP and its consolidated subsidiaries could differ materially from those expressed or implied by such forward-looking statements and assumptions. All statements other than statements of historical fact are statements that could be deemed forward-looking statements, including but not limited to statements of the plans, strategies and objectives of HP for future operations, including the separation transaction; the future performance if Hewlett-Packard Enterprise and HP Inc. if the separation is completed; any statements concerning expected development, performance, market share or competitive performance relating to products and services; any statements regarding anticipated operational and financial results; any statements of expectation or belief; and any statements of assumptions underlying any of the foregoing. Risks, uncertainties and assumptions include the need to address the many challenges facing HP’s businesses; the competitive pressures faced by HP’s businesses; risks associated with executing HP’s strategy, including the planned separation transaction, and plans for future operations and investments; the impact of macroeconomic and geopolitical trends and events; the need to manage third-party suppliers and the distribution of HP’s products and services effectively; the protection of HP’s intellectual property assets, including intellectual property licensed from third parties; risks associated with HP’s international operations; the development and transition of new products and services and the enhancement of existing products and services to meet customer needs and respond to emerging technological trends; the execution and performance of contracts by HP and its suppliers, customers, clients and partners; the hiring and retention of key employees; integration and other risks associated with business combination and investment transactions; the execution, timing and results of restructuring plans, including estimates and assumptions related to the cost and the anticipated benefits of implementing those plans; the execution, timing and results of the separation transaction or restructuring plans, including estimates and assumptions related to the cost (including any possible disruption of HP’s business) and the anticipated benefits of implementing the separation transaction and restructuring plans; the resolution of pending investigations, claims and disputes; and other risks that are described in HP’s Annual Report on Form 10-K for the fiscal year ended October 31, 2013, and HP’s other filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission, including HP’s Quarterly Report on Form 10-Q for the fiscal quarter ended July 31, 2014. HP assumes no obligation and does not intend to update these forward looking statements.

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