Hewlett-Packard made headlines this month with the announcement that it is entering the 3-D printing business in a big way.
The move is something that the additive manufacturing crowd has been anxiously anticipating for years—a traditional OEM king lending its clout, infrastructure and expertise to the 3-D printing world to make the technology more viable than ever before.
But HP is only the latest OEM to take this turn.
Over the last decade, hundreds of major manufacturers have been quietly investing in 3-D printing technologies, investigating their potential and weighing their impact on the future.
Now, suddenly, they are putting them to work.
In 2014, companies across the industry have jumped headfirst into the 3-D printing business. Market leaders like HP, Mazak and even Autodesk are producing new brand name printing technologies while traditional businesses from UPS to Staples have positioned themselves to become the first viable 3-D printing service chains in the world.
3-D printing, it seems, has penetrated just about every business in about every market. The most innovative companies are already putting them to work to claim the that first-mover advantage.
HP's new Multi Jet Fusion printer is already making a splash in the industry.
Based on its unique thermal inkjet technology, the machine boasts print speeds up to 10-times faster than its competition, along with an array of proprietary designs to make builds stronger and more resilient with greater resolution than other products on the market. Add to that HP's established reach and brand name, and the impact should be huge.
The project has made HP a very big player in what is quickly becoming a very big game.
Read more about HP's 3-D printing technology.PHOTO: HP
On the design side, Autodesk has been enabling 3-D printing for years. But in May, the company announced a project to take the industry on from the other side.
The Spark is a simple, consumer-grade printer built to specifically help Autodesk designs come to life. While the printer doesn't seem out to push the state of the art in 3-D printing, it provides and interesting story for the company.
For years, Autodesk's software has been helping designers bring ideas to life. Now Spark is helping the software-maker bring real life products to the designers.Read more about SparkPHOTO: Autodesk
CNCs are a critical tool n the metal-printing business. Laser-sintered parts come out of the machines rough and burned. They are striated and unfinished and always require milling, grinding and polishing before they can be put to work.
Matsuura simplified that process.
The Lumex Avance-25 was the first machining center on the market that combined high-speed milling and metal sintering into the same machine. It opened the doors to a new field of hybrid machining that is capable of producing finished, polished parts ready for use right out of the machines.
See "Matching the 3-D Printing Promise with Machining Precision
" for more details. PHOTO: Matsuura
Here is an example of the capabilities of hybrid printing.
On the right is an unfinished laser sintered piece, built up layer by layer by melting metal powders with high-power lasers in the Lumex Avance-25.
On the left is the same piece from the same machine that has been finished and tooled during the print process.
Another recent entry into the hybrid printing industry, Mazak has beefed up its subtractive machining expertise with additive tools to create its Integrex i-400 AM.
According to the system developer, with the laser sintering addition to its renowned multi-tasking machine technology, "manufacturers can easily generate/clad near-net-shape component features then quickly complete them with high-precision finish machining operations, as well as laser-mark parts, if needed."
See " 'Multi-Task Machining' Now Includes Additive Manufacturing
" for more.PHOTO: Mazak
DMG MORI's added its own hybrid printer to its long line of traditional machining centers this year.
The Lasertec 65 3D is equipped with a diode laser for metal deposition, while the 5-axis machine platform enables highly accurate subtractive machining operations between layers.
Add to that a metal deposition 3-D printing process that is 10 times faster than laser sintering in a powder bed and the Lasertec 65 is capable of building polished, tooled and totally finished pieces from scratch in a single build chamber. It can even add wear protection layers inside the build.
See "3-D Printing: Made in the USA
" for more info.PHOTO: DMG MORI
Renishaw is well known in the manufacturing industry for producing high-precision metrology and motion control products. But a few years ago, it made a big move into direct metal laser sintering, leveraging the company's expertise in subtractive machining to build ready-to-use 3-D printed titanium parts from powder.
Read more at "IMTS 2012: Rapid-Changeover Additive ManufacturingPHOTO: Renishaw
3-D Printed Bike
Renishaw's showstopping piece, its 3-D printed titanium bike—designed by Empire Bikes—is perhaps the best example of the capabilities of this technology.
The new titanium alloy was printed in parts in a single build envelope. Once separated and bonded together, the frame is reportedly 33% lighter than the original design.
Read about the project at " Customized Titanium Cycle Frame... Redesigned, Printed and Assembled
The Da Vinci printer is the first in what could eventually become a robust offering of 3-D printers from Taiwan's XYZprinting. That might make them seem like an odd addition to this list, but it works when we look at its parent company, New Kinpo Group.
Kinpo has been producing electronics, appliances and technologies for major OEMs since 1973. XYZprinting is a new subsidiary created specifically to gain foothold in the consumer-grade 3-D printing market; it's an attempt to produce high-quality, low-cost printers for the home. Backed by Kinpo's $30 billion in annual revenue and 30 years of market expertise, it has made a big impact in a very short time.
Now for the service providers.
The undisputed king of e-retail, Amazon, has launched its own 3-D printed products store—a marketplace, it says, that provides customers access to "more than 200 unique print on-demand products, many that can be customized by material, size, styles and color variations and personalized with text and image imprints."
The list of products ranges from jewelry to phone cases to decorations and just about everything in between. But the most popular (and coolest) offering is, of course, the custom-printed bobbleheads, made in coordination with Mixee Labs.
Read all about it at "Amazon Launches 3-D Printing Store
Home Depot—already the shopping spot for DIY hobbyists—has teamed up with MakerBot to offer printers, live demos and, someday maybe, print services.
The deal puts 3-D printers next to the hammer and nails of traditional building supplies, which goes far in cementing the technology's role as a practical tool for practical jobs.
On the other end of the maker movement, office-supply chain, Staples, has begun rolling out in-store 3-D printing services in some of its select stores. The service provides consumers the ability to have pieces custom printed while shopping for toner, office chairs or their own 3-D printer.
Best Buy, in collaboration with Intel, has begun showcasing "mini-stores" inside Best Buys to provide a first-hand glimpse of the power of 3-D printing and the technologies that enable it.
"We wanted to give our customers a new way to experience Intel technology," said CJ Bruno, corporate vice president and general manager of Intel Americas. "It's an innovative way for Best Buy's customers to see, touch and engage with our latest products and experiences."
Add to that the heavy inventory of 3-D printers, materials and supplies the retailer offers in-store and online, and Best Buy has positioned itself right at the forefront of the mainstream 3-D printing movement.
Read more about The Intel Experience
here. PHOTO: MakerBot
UPS has launched six 3-D printing service stations at UPS Stores around the country – the first batch in what could eventually grow to nearly 100 centers nationwide.
"We are committed to offering small business owners, entrepreneurs and consumers high-tech solutions in order to assist with all of their business needs," said Michelle Van Slyke, vice president of marketing and sales at The UPS Store. "We launched the pilot to evaluate if there was demand for 3-D print and we're excited to be announcing an expansion, giving even more small business owners access to high-quality, professional 3-D printing. We look forward to being a part of the future of the 3-D printing industry."
Aerospace: Leading the Charge
As additive manufacturing technologies grow more robust, traditional manufacturers from GE to Google are integrating 3-D printing into their product development process and even into the final products themselves.
The aerospace industry, already years ahead in both R&D and application, is leading the charge.
GE has been using 3-D printing for rapid prototypes and functional models for over a decade. But its decision to include 100% 3-D-printed fuel injectors into its LEAP jet engines by 2016, marked a turning point for the whole industry.
GE will begin printing injectors for the LEAP jet engine in 2016 and ramp up to about 35,000 per year just four years after that. It is the biggest and most ambitious additive manufacturing project ever undertaken by anyone in the industry.
3-D printing consolidates 20 components into one solid piece. When production begins, the company will install 19 injectors into every new LEAP jet engine, putting 3-D printing at the fiery center of Airbus A320s, Boeing 737s and Comac 919s.
Read all about the fuel injector project at "The Unassuming King of 3-D Printing
" PHOTO: GE
Pratt & Whitney has been quietly reinventing its jet engines for years.
According to a piee in "The Harford Courant' the company is using 3-D printing to create 25 different components for its PurePower Geared Turbofan engine. Though the company isn't specifying which pieces those are, exactly, the article did note that the 25 parts are "25 parts are simple like brackets and others are more complicated components in the engine's air pathway, a high-temperature and constant-stress area of the engine."
Read about P&W's 3-D works at "Mastering the Hybrid Factory
"PHOTO: Bob Falcetti/Getty Images
Airbus is right up at the front of the 3-D printing conversion. The company is planning to feature additively manufactured parts on a range of new aircraft, "from the next-generation A350 XWB to in-service jetliners form the cornerstone A300/A310 Family," the company says in a release.
"We are on the cusp of a step-change in weight reduction and efficiency – producing aircraft parts which weight 30-to-55%, while reducing raw material used by 90%," said Peter Sander of Airbus. "This game-changing technology also decreases total energy used in production by up to 90% compared to traditional methods."
While other aerospace companies are exploring the capabilities and potential of metal printing, Boeing is already knee-deep in functional plastic printing.
According to a recent report by Wohler Associates, Boeing has printed over 20,000 laser-sintered air ducts and hinges on military and commercial aircraft over the last few years. The 787 Dreamliner holds the current record, flying today with 32 different laser sintered parts on board.
Christopher Furlong/Getty Images
NASA made history just last week by completing the first zero-gravity 3-D print on board the International Space Station.
The project is in collaboration with Made In Space—a Silicon Valley team of scientists and entrepreneurs that developed the unique printer. The first print was a name plate for a part of the printer itself, but it is the beginning of what the organization hopes will help make longer, safer space exploration possible.
Read all about it at "NASA Completes the First Successful 3-D Print in Space
"PHOTO: Made In Space
In January of this year, SpaceX launched its Falcon 9 rocket with a 3-D printed main oxidizer valve on one of its nine engines. That launch marked the culmination of three years of 3-D printing testing and research and the beginning of the technology's major role in the company's future space plans.
Next step: a 3-D printed engine chamber for the SuperDraco engines that will take its first as part of its crewed flight to space.