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HP Inc: No DRM in our 3D printers, we swear (unlike our 2D ones)

Raw materials will be open and multi-source

While HP Inc is getting a lot of flack over its DRM lockdown on 2D printing consumables, in the 3D world the company wants to address that it won't be setting the prices on consumables.

Speaking at the 50th anniversary party for HP Labs, Tim Weber, global head of 3D materials for the firm, said that HP Inc would not be the sole provider for consumables. Four other companies, including BASF, are already working on materials that can be used in HP Inc's forthcoming 3D printers – once HP Inc has certified them as safe.

"These will be open suppliers, they will set the branding and the price once they have been certified," he confirmed. While HP Inc's first printer will only use one type of material – the popular plastic PA12 – more materials will be coming online from other companies in the next two years.

By the end of the year, HP Inc's first commercial 3D printer, the Jet Fusion 3D 3200, will go on sale. At $120,000 it's not cheap, but Weber pointed out that the first laser printer cost $15,000 and even the company's first foray is significantly cheaper than the competitor's machines.

The next printer will begin to add color, specifically cyan, magenta, yellow, and black, which instantly opens up over 65,000 possible printing colors. Ceramics printing is already working in HP Inc's labs, and other materials will follow, he said.

Unlike other 3D printing firms, which focussed on the consumer printing sphere, HP Inc isn't interested in having people make stuff at home as yet. Paul Benning, print engine strategy architect at HP Inc, told The Reg that the value proposition wasn't there yet for home 3D printing.

"Home printing got a lot of excitement, but when you look at 3D printing, 90 per cent of the value out there is in industry," he said. "Home printing might eventually get there, but more realistically it'll take awhile. Instead you'll see 3D print shops, like Kinkos for 2D today, to do the printing for you."

Instead, HP Inc is going to be selling to manufacturing. Weber pointed out that 3D printing introduces an entirely new pricing model and distribution system. Initially the 3D printers will be used for small-run items, but the ability to produce anywhere anytime made economic sense, and the use of voxels (volumetric pixels) will move us away from the traditional analogue manufacturing model.

Voxels are key to building new types of devices digitally. A pixel is 2D, but a voxel can hold the information on color, tensile strength, conductivity, and other properties of a design so that they can be 3D printed exactly as specified.

For example, gears can be built with layers of color so that as they wear down they will change color to warn the user when they need changing. Looking much further ahead, voxels could allow for the printing of sensors directly into parts, with Benning showing off a chain link that had implanted sensors to show the strain it was under.

At the moment, it's difficult to compete with the low cost of silicon transistors, he said, but printed electronics are nothing new and prices are coming down. In the meantime, 3D printing is accurate enough to allow the implantation of silicon in precise housings to get the same effects.

"In the last 150 years, mankind has built a $12tn economy on simple model of analogue manufacturing," said Shane Wall, CTO of HP Inc. "Digital manufacturing is going to turn that model on its head in the next 30 years, and we're starting out on that road now." ®

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