Building a slide deck, pitch, or presentation? Here are the big takeaways:

  • HP has expanded its 3D printing portfolio with the Jet Fusion 300 and 500 Series, capable of voxel-level printing across the full color spectrum.
  • Voxel-level printing and open materials efforts may help drive future innovation in 3D printing and manufacturing.

On Monday, HP announced its new Jet Fusion 300 and 500 series of 3D printers that can print in full color using voxel-level control. The systems start around $50,000, and are targeted toward SMBs.

Since the machines are relatively low-cost, they could help make 3D printing more accessible to a broader variety of businesses and professionals. However, the focus on voxel control and open materials development could foreshadow the future of 3D printing in manufacturing.

HP’s use of color, according to Gartner research vice president Pete Basiliere, has been developing for some time. Most of the existing ways to 3D print with color are muted, Basiliere said, but the HP samples he’s seen have bright, vibrant colors. This could help improve prototyping.

SEE: 3D printing: A primer for business and technology professionals (Tech Pro Research)

“In the prototyping world, you’ve got parts that could be very realistis,” Basiliere said. “By realistic, I mean compared to the part being made in a state of production.”

In addition to more functional prototyping, it also means that if a business can make the product with materials available from HP, it can offer it as a new product itself, customized with small batch, quick manufacturing. Basiliere called this “local production for local consumption.”

HP’s Jet Fusion series works like an inkjet printer. There is a powder that is spread out and a liquid adent is jetted onto it to create the parts, Basiliere said. Through this method, HP is able to achieve what’s known as voxel-level control over its prints.

For the uninitiated, “a voxel is three-dimensional pixel,” Basiliere said. Just as the pixel is the core of the technology within flat screen TVs–where the computer dictates what color the pixel should be–HP’s Jet Fusion printers can determine color for each of the three-dimensional voxel cubes. This is different than extrusion methods, like FLA, that lay down a continuous stream of material. Voxel control, plus the color range offered by HP, could allow these printers to create prints with much higher detail.

As part of its announcement, HP also further extended its open platform for materials and applications development, stating in a press release that it would use “its growing materials ecosystem to grow the material breadth and drive costs down.”

SEE: HP launches 3D Multi Jet printers that aim to deliver fully functional, color parts with systems in $50,000 range (ZDNet)

It’s important to understand, Basiliere said, that “when HP talks about open source materials, HP is talking about the powder.” Still, having a wide range of powder materials is important. By partnering with others, HP can more rapidly expand the gamut of materials the machine can print with and grow its number of suppliers.

“That’s important because no procurement person worth their salt will accept the idea that they can only get the material from one source,” Basiliere said.

For 3D printers to take off in the enterprise, they’ll need multiple suppliers for the materials. And HP benefits because it can rely on the R&D of others to broaden the materials it can print with. The liquid agent is not open source currently, Basiliere said, but HP could move in that direction in the future.

Other 3D printing leaders such as Stratasys and 3D Systems have also addressed the open materials efforts growing in the space. Stratasys is working with multiple materials for its BioMimics project, and 3D Systems CEO Vyomesh Joshi said in a ZDNet interview that materials will be a key area for innovation in additive manufacturing. However, Joshi also said that materials will likely remain proprietary for a while, as he doesn’t believe the concept of open materials will catch on right away due to the complex chemistry associated with it.