HP dives into 3D printing with Multi Jet Fusion

The tech giant makes its long-awaited move into 3D printing -- but machines using its technology won't be widely available until 2016.

The new Multi Jet Fusion technology marks HP's first foray into 3D printing. Scott Stein/CNET

Hewlett-Packard made its long-awaited move into 3D printing on Wednesday, revealing the Multi Jet Fusion technology that will power new 3D commercial and manufacturing printers.

The computer and printer company claims that the new 3D printing technology is 10 times faster than that in existing 3D printers, is more affordable and prints stronger products than current offerings in the market. With those improvements, HP claims it can make 3D printing much more widely adopted than it is today. However, any customers will have to wait a little longer to buy the product -- it doesn't become generally available until 2016.

HP on Wednesday also announced the new Sprout, a desktop computer that works as a dual-screen creative console, with its own projector and a 3D-capable scanner.

Earlier this year, HP said it would announce a 3D printing offering by the end of its fiscal year (which is this Friday). Wednesday's announcement comes just three weeks after HP unveiled plans to split into two companies, joining a recent trend of large corporate breakups to create smaller, more targeted firms, including eBay's plans to spin off its PayPal unit. After the split, the new Hewlett-Packard Enterprise will focus on business and government software and services, and HP Inc. will focus on PCs and printing. The split will be completed by the end of October 2015.

"As we examined the existing 3D print market, we saw a great deal of potential but also saw major gaps in the combination of speed, quality and cost," Stephen Nigro, an HP senior vice president, said in a statement. He said Multi Jet Fusion is designed to "transform manufacturing across industries" thanks to improved quality and productivity from what's already offered today.

An example of fine-tuned detail and color on multi jet fusion printing. Scott Stein/CNET

HP claims the technology achieves that in part by building an entire surface area, instead of one point at a time, substantially speeding up 3D imaging. Additionally, beyond the current use of thermoplastics, HP plans to develop new 3D printing materials, using color, ceramic and metal. The company eventually wants to offer the same set of colors it already does for traditional printing. Multi Jet Fusion currently prints in fused nylon, to an accuracy of 20 microns.

Early customers should have access to initial Multi Jet Fusion systems next year, with full availability expected the year after. HP said that while the technology is mostly targeted to corporate clients, the company wants to make it available to consumers as well through "service bureaus."

HP already has a strong name in printing, having sold consumer and business printers for decades, so it may be able to leverage its expertise and customer relationships to expand its new 3D printer offerings. Still, 3D printing has struggled to take off into the mainstream, with companies including 3D Systems and Stratasys working on developing their markets beyond prototyping early products and creating custom industrial tools.

With HP becoming one of the biggest companies to enter 3D printing, the landscape for the young industry is likely to shift quickly -- and perhaps not to the benefit of the smaller players already in the space. Just as HP made its announcement Wednesday, shares of 3D Systems, ExOne and Stratasys all dropped some 3 percent to 7 percent.

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