The new Metal Jet printer appeared at a manufacturing trade show in Chicago on Monday. Engineering firm GKN Plc is using the printers in its factories to produce parts for companies including Volkswagen AG. GKN makes more than 3 billion components a year and expects to print millions of production-grade HP Metal Jet parts for customers as early as next year, HP said in a statement.
The new steel-printing machine could open up new opportunities in the automotive, industrial and medical-equipment fields. Metal parts manufacturer Parmatech Corp. has also signed on as a partner.
Printers that make three-dimensional metal objects already exist, but HP said Metal Jet can produce a lot more parts at "significantly" lower cost than existing machines.
Technology like HP Metal Jet lets manufacturers produce parts without first having to build the factory tools that are traditionally needed.
HP says that the printer can produce high volumes of parts-and large parts-with a binder jetting build size of 430 x 320 x 200 mm (16.9 x 12.6 x 7.9 in). You can also produce geometrically complex parts without trade-offs, with HP voxel-level 1200 x 1200 dpi 3D printing accuracy.
But even early-adopter Volkswagen will use of the printer for specialty parts on certain models, and not for the highest-selling vehicles. Volkswagen will start out with cosmetic pieces, having partner GKN use the printers to make customized car key rings and nameplates that drivers can put on their trunk lid or door. For its next generation of cars, Volkswagen plans to use printed mirror mounts and gearshift knobs, and continues to evaluate other use-cases for HP's machines.
The challenge of making the Metal Jet printer is obvious: At very high volume, other manufacturing methods are more economical. However, HP claims that you can get final metal parts faster with a low price industrial production-grade 3D printer, at less than $399,000 USD.
The new HP printers will become commercially available in the second half 2020 for lead customers, with expected broad availability in 2021.