HP embraces 'blended reality,' dives into 3D printing

With new hardware and an immersive computing platform, HP vows 'to forever change the landscape of 3D printing'

HP today announced a new 3D printing technology called Multi Jet Fusion that it said will enable mass production of parts with a technology traditionally reserved for rapid prototyping.

The new industrial 3D printer,  about the size of a washing machine, is 10 times faster and 50% less expensive than current systems on the market, HP said. The printer can also use a myriad of colors and materials.

The company also announced Sprout, a new immersive computing platform that combines a 23-in touch screen monitor and horizontal capacitive touch mat with a scanner, depth sensor, hi-res camera, and projector in a single desktop device.

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HP's new Sprout computing platform.

Sprout allows users to scan physical objects into a virtual platform that then combines multiple applications for development. Those objects can then be sent to a Multi Jet Fusion printer to be created on the fly.

The Sprout platform also has a collaborative capability so multiple developers or artists can work on that same project at the same time. HP released a software development kit for Sprout today.

The Sprout platform is not designed to interact exclusively with the new 3D platform, but will serve more as an artistic and engineering design tool.

Sprout is available for pre-order on HP's website today and it will be in stores beginning on Nov. 8 for $1,899.

Describing it as a new direction for HP, Dion Weisler, executive vice president of HP Printing & Personal Systems, said along with traditional print and compute platforms, the company will now be focused on "blended reality," which allows users to move physical objects into the digital world, manipulate them and churn them back out as new products.

"We will forever change the landscape of 3D printing and will indeed create the tools that will trigger the next industrial revolution," Weisler said at a New York press event today.

The Multi Jet Fusion printer

HP's Multi Jet Fusion printer will be offered to beta customers early next year and is expected to be generally available in 2016.

The machine uses a print bar with 30,000 nozzles spraying 350 million drops a second of thermoplastic or other materials onto a print platform.

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HP's Multi Jet Fusion 3D printer process.

The printer uses a proprietary multi-agent printing process that HP calls "Thermal Inkjet Arrays" that simultaneously apply multiple liquid agents to produce greater accuracy, resiliency and uniform part strength in all three axis directions.

The printer works by combining the attributes of binder jet and selective laser/electron beam sintering, an additive manufacturing technology where layer upon layer of powder material is fused together with heat.

Steve Nigro, senior vice president of HP's Inkjet and Web Solutions Business, said the  printer works by first laying down a layer of powder material across a build area. Then a fusing agent is selectively applied with the page-wide print bar. Then the same print bar applies a detailing agent at the parts edge to give high definition. The material is then exposed to an energy source that fuses it.

"With Multi Jet Fusion quality, you'll get hi-resolution details and robust mechanical qualities," Nigro said.

During the presentation, several objects made by the printer showed it can produce intricate designs as well as strong industrial parts. For example, the Multi Jet Fusion printer created a chain link that was printed in under 20 minutes and tested to withstand 10,000 lbs. of weight. HP demonstrated that when a video showed the link being used on the end of a crane to lift a full-size sedan off the ground.

The printer, Weisler said, can produce fully functional parts with more accuracy, finer details and smoother surfaces. It can also manipulate part and material properties, including form, texture, friction, strength, elasticity, electrical and thermal properties, beyond other current 3D print processes.

"We've overcome the barriers of speed, cost and quality and we've set the foundation for material innovation to truly realize the potential of 3D printing," Weisler said. "It really is a catalyst for the next industrial revolution."

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A model of an oil rig printed by the new Multi Jet 3D printer. Notice the details and colors all printed in one pass.

Along with the Multi Jet Fusion printer, HP announced that machine's OS will be an open platform where developers can expand applications for its use.

"Together, these advancements have the potential to revolutionize production and offer small businesses a new way to produce goods and parts for customers," Weisler said.


Sprout, the immersive computing platform designed to enable a more intuitive, hands-on way of using a computer, uses a scanning camera to instantly capture physical objects that can be manipulated.

The platform is made up of what HP calls the Dual-screen Experience: an integrated vertical touch screen and horizontal capacitive touch mat, "designed with creative expression and human movement in mind."

The Sprout Illuminator arches out over the vertical touch screen, projecting images onto the touch mat. It combines a scanner, depth sensor, high-resolution camera and projector.

Real-time remote collaboration lets users share work by allowing them to seamlessly interact with and manipulate content remotely using HP's MyRoom application.

HP also announced an Immersive Applications suite of software designed for Sprout content.

Sprout uses Windows 8.1 running on a fourth-generation Intel i7 Processor; the system comes with 1TB of storage and has a 23-in. white-LED backlit LCD screen  with a 10-point touch-enabled, Full HD (1920x1080 pixels) wide viewing angle.

The 20-point capacitive touch mat allows users to capture, create, move and manipulate content using their hands in a way HP describes as "more natural and intuitive."

It also has a fixed 1-megapixel, 720p HD HP low-light, front-facing webcam. Users also have access to a Adonit Jot Pro stylus for more precision manipulation of digital images.

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A user working with the new HP Sprout interactive desktop computing system.

The Sprout Illuminator is powered by a DLP projector and a four-camera sensory system that includes an HP high-resolution camera with up to 14.6-megapixel resolution and the Intel RealSense 3D Camera for instant capture of 2D and 3D objects.

A NVIDIA GeForce GT 745A graphics card can be used for graphic-intensive tasks like gaming. The system has 8GB of RAM.

"The first-generation device is optimized for the growing maker movement and emerging creative class with a desire for greater personal control over the creative process from start to finish," HP said in a statement.

In the future, HP said it expects to expand the Sprout platform into a new, "holistic computing" category for consumer and enterprise customers "that will redefine our ability to interact with technology in a more intuitive, dynamic and collaborative manner."

Copyright © 2014 IDG Communications, Inc.

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