Big Companies, Big Steps into 3D Printing


Aya Bentur  

HP Jet Fusion 3D Printed Part

Thinking ahead is critical for businesses, especially for big companies that might not be as agile as smaller ones and may require more time to adopt change. As Additive Manufacturing (AM) becomes a must in today’s industry 4.0, more and more companies want a piece of the pie. In recent years a number of big companies have entered the Additive Manufacturing (AM) ecosystem, here are a few examples of big companies and how they made their move into AM.

The Developer Route

The most obvious way to enter the ecosystem is developing proprietary technology, that’s the path HP chose. It might be a long road to take but for the 2D printing giant, the development from 2D to 3D was almost a natural evolution. In 2014 HP announced their intentions to enter the 3D printing ecosystem and in 2016 they launched their end-to-end Multi Jet Fusion 3D printing solution, we can assume the development process began long before that. Using their wide base of know-how in 2D printing as a stepping stone the company developed a technology that is actually a combination of two 3D printing technologies – SLS and binder jetting (image below shows the process of the MJF). From the very beginning, HP made it clear that their intentions are to enable reproducibility in an industrial way, to reach widespread adoption of industrial 3D printing (up top HP 3D printed part). HP is continuously developing their technology, their first release was followed by MJF machines for color printing (for prototypes) and metal 3D printing (intended for the production of end parts). HP recently reached the milestone of 10 million parts printed last year alone. An example of the process within the company is the HP on HP initiative. The company is set to not only create a manufacturing platform but also proving its use cases – on itself. As part of the initiative, in the MJF 300/500 full-color series around 140 parts are 3D printed (below air duct for HP MJF printer printed on MJF), and the same process is implemented in other (non-3D printing) HP products.

HP MJF Process of Printing

Air duct for HP MJF printer Redesigned from 7 assembled components to 1 Printed on MJF

Growth through Acquisition

Another big 2D printing company moving into 3D is Xerox. Over the years Xerox has shown an interest in the technology but just recently took the step into the 3D printing world. Last October, the company voiced their plans and intentions to develop “a roadmap to participate in 3D printing.” Following that announcement a couple of months ago Xerox announced the acquisition of Vader Systems, which develops liquid metal jet 3D printers (3D printed part below). Along with the acquisition the company announced several new products relating to 3D printing, let’s wait and see what’s coming up next from the AM newcomer.

Vader Systems 3D Printing

Shifting Roles

3D Printed Fuel Nozzle - Allows manufacturing of Complex Parts - Image credit GE Reports-Chris New

One of GE‘s moves into the AM ecosystem was by acquisitions yet that’s only part of the process the company took from being users of the technology to service providers and back to users in the various verticals throughout the company. The GE Additive story starts with a need, a need to redesign a part (the famous fuel nozzle – above) which led to AM. While the initial process began by using service providers, specifically Morris Technologies, the conglomerate continued by acquiring Morris Technologies in 2012. In 2016 GE purchased Concept Laser and Arcam, which was followed by establishing a new division within the company – GE Additive. The separate division serves GE internally as well as external customers, it functions as a research center and a service provider including consulting, material developments and software related to AM, positioning GE as a major player within the AM ecosystem (below additively manufactured metal bracket for the GEnx engine).

Additive Manufactured Metal Bracket for the GEnx Engine Approved by the FAA

The Spinoff

Like any good TV show, at some point, the supporting actor deserves its own show. That’s (sort of) the case with Michelin and AddUp, another instance where the company’s use of 3D printing led to taking on a bigger role in the AM ecosystem. Back in 2005 Michelin started looking into additive manufacturing for the production of their tire molds. The technology wasn’t quite there in order to meet their needs so they set to develop machines alongside their main operations. Through its own use of AM in the industrial production of tire molds, the company became more than the average AM user. In 2015 Michelin teamed up with Fives to create a joint ventureAddUp (initially named Fives Michelin Additive Solutions) aiming to create a new company which will impact the metal additive manufacturing industry. The new company is based on the know-how gained from the two parenting companies but today AddUp holds it’s own (below Michelin 3D printed metal blades manufactured by AddUp displayed last year at Hannover-Messe).

Michelin 3D Printed Metal Blades Manufactured by AddUp at Hannover-Messe

The roads into the AM ecosystem are varied. While Additive Manufacturing is not in its infancy it has yet to reach widespread mainstream adoption, making this window of time an attractive opportunity to enter the ecosystem. What are your thoughts on big companies entering the ecosystem? Tell us in the comments below. For more insights and information follow us on LinkedIn or subscribe to our newsletter for weekly updates.

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