The unique 3D printing technology from HP is not only transforming how we make things, but it’s also revolutionizing the way we design them. The voxel, or three-dimensional pixel, is at the heart of the technology. It allows designers to break objects down to the smallest nuances of shape, color and function and apply them with microscopic precision. And that’s a good thing for anyone that wants to use 3D printing for the manufacturing of end-use parts, as well as high-quality prototypes.
Voxels add speed to 3D printing
In short, voxels are 25-micron building blocks, roughly one quarter of the thickness of a human hair. Voxels add more detailed control to 3D printing, such as pinpointing a specific color or mechanical property, even to a specific segment of the 3D-printed part.
To produce a 3D object using voxels, HP’s Jet Fusion 3D printers start by laying down a super-thin sheet of material less than the thickness of a sheet of paper. A printhead equipped with 30,000 nozzles then swoops over the material, precisely applying chemical fusing and detailing agents to form the shape of the object being created, and then applying infrared heat at very specific levels to make them fuse and do things like rendering objects in full color.
But it’s what’s going on inside this mix of materials that’s the real game-changer. HP’s printhead puts out 340 million of these voxel building blocks per second. The technology helps produce objects 10 times faster than other 3D printing methods, If you’re familiar with other manufacturing methods, such as injection molding, then this is a great benefit when producing larger batches. But unlike injection molding, each 3D printed part can have a unique geometry.
A good example of leveraging both print speed and flexibility is the Swedish company Ochno. It’s a Swedish startup that prepares commercial buildings with next-generation technology infrastructure, such as climate control and LED lighting. One of Ochno’s key components for their smart building infrastructure is a power hub. This was designed and 3D printed by the Swedish service bureau Digital Mechanics. By 3D printing their prototypes for the power hub, Ochno has increased both production speed and quality of their prototyping as well as short-series production.
”The reason we chose 3D printing and Digital Mechanics is the focus on speed to market and production quality of our prototypes. In less than a week, we can go from idea to final prototype. And when we show our prototypes to a customer, the quality is so good they think it’s the real product.”
Olof Ermis, CEO, Ochno
Voxels add more properties to a 3D printed part
Previously, 3D design software and printing methods only allowed designers to create objects defined by their surface. But voxel printing technology lets engineers define each voxel’s characteristics both inside and out. That means designers can go inside 3D printed objects as they’re being printed — depositing and mixing in additional materials, giving each individual voxel different properties in real-time, which is at the heart of the breakthrough technology that enables flexible production. And flexible production is what 3D printing is all about – both in terms of complex geometries and the individualization of individual parts.
With voxel-level control, designers will soon be able to influence the way in which materials bond with each other, allowing them to change the tiniest mechanical properties of physical objects, such as allowing very specific areas to be soft and flexible while others are rigid and hard.
For example, by applying agents containing bits of metal to voxels in specific patterns, 3D printed objects could be embedded with functional electronics such as simple circuits, sensors or even wireless antennae.
This alone further expands the design possibilities of 3D printing, but micro-level control goes for color, too. Different hues can be infused into individual voxels to create dazzling and unlimited arrays of color configurations to serve a variety of aesthetic or functional applications.
Voxel technology can even help save lives. For example, a surgeon may need a better reference for his patient’s heart than a 2D x-ray can provide. Soon, that doctor will be able to make a 3D scan of his patient’s heart and from it, create an exact replica — with its unique network of multicolored veins and arteries — and then 3D-print it within feet of the operating room, potentially supporting better surgical outcomes for millions of patients.
As industrial, medical and consumer product designers start wrapping their heads around the boundless capabilities of 3D printing, they’ll come up with new uses and applications that are hard to even imagine today. The products will be embedded with advanced biosensors that could track medical conditions. And as the range of materials expands to include bioplastics or even lab-grown nerve cells, the tantalizing promise of restoring hearing or sight for more people in more places around the world moves closer to reality.
Regardless if you are in product development or manufacturing, HP’s 3D printing technology allows for both fast production and customization of each individual part. Together with HP, PLM Group can guide you to a tailor-made digital manufacturing solution that enables flexible and reliable volume production of 3D printed parts. This is your best opportunity to get started with digital manufacturing and add value to your business.
Top five benefits of using 3D printing for manufacturing
- Ability to customize each individual part
- Complexity is free – manufacture parts that traditional methods can’t
- Ability to optimize parts for lighter weight, optimized functionality and more
- Faster time to market – have your parts ready in hours, not weeks
- Cut warehousing costs – produce what you need, when you need it