HP’s focus on sustainability and collaboration in 3D printing and digital manufacturing goes to the top.
Last month, HP opened its new 3D Printing and Digital Manufacturing Center of Excellence, the tenth building on its campus in Sant Cugat del Vallès, just outside of Barcelona. During the grand opening festivities, among the hustle and bustle of executive presentations and lab tours, I appreciated a quieter moment to step away and sit down with Christoph Schell, the president of the company’s 3D Printing and Digital Manufacturing business.
Schell has held the role since 1 November 2018, as he moved to the 3D printing side of the company following his most recent tenure as President of Americas Region at HP Inc. upon Stephen Nigro’s retirement. Nigro had held the position since the business’ inception; the last time I spoke with him in an official capacity was at IMTS in September 2018 when HP unveiled its highly-anticipated Metal Jet 3D printing offering.
Since the executive transition, we had encountered Schell during RAPID + TCT this spring at HP’s press conference discussing its new MJF production system, Digital Manufacturing Network, and partnerships announced in May, but the Barcelona event was our first sit-down chat.
Schell himself is relatively no-nonsense and, happily, that also means pretty no-BS. With a background firm in HP but not necessarily in 3D printing, he brings an interesting perspective to the table, and business is clearly running full speed ahead — with emphasis on business.
HP’s 3D Printing Ecosystem
The technologies at HP are clearly progressing at a fast clip, with three series of MJF systems available since 2016 and the more recently introduced Metal Jet introduction last year. Production is in sight — and so HP added “Digital Manufacturing” to its 3D Printing business eight months ago, Schell noted.
The entire ecosystem that makes up 3D Printing and Digital Manufacturing is ‘amazingly’ complex,’ Schell noted. Each aspect “brings its own challenges and complexities.”
“The 3D printer in the digital manufacturing reality is a small but central component; it’s really the hub,” Schell said. “The 3D printer is where you go from digital to physical… The cool thing about digital manufacturing is it’s not intended to be digital: the point is to get a physical product.”
To get to that physical product, HP works with a variety of partners across the end-to-end process. Schell noted that he thinks “it was very smart of HP from the get-go to say ‘open’; there are all different companies that can engage with us.”
The MJF platform has from the first invited materials development to qualify a range of powders for use on Jet Fusion 3D printers. These now range from early ‘you can have it in any color you want as long as it’s black’ nylon materials from a new TPU announced this year with BASF.
Relationships now extend rather further, from work with materials companies like BASF and GKN to “customers that have become alliance partners.” These are especially relevant in the all-important automotive market, where HP is keen to work closely with companies like Volkswagen and other OEMs working to reduce weight and introduce new capabilities that only advanced manufacturing can offer.
During the grand opening event, executives from Siemens, Materialise, ZiggZagg, Avid Product Development, GKN Powder Metallurgy, and Volkswagen Group were on site to provide a look into their relationships with HP.
Schell noted that the Center of Excellence is designed to facilitate work with these and other collaborators. Of the experience of work in the facility — while clarifying that he doesn’t hold it in a romantic view (“I am not a warm and fuzzy person”) — he told me:
“What I like is this merging of industry and workspace, where the engineers can see the lab, where marketing and sales are right here. The whole value chain is in this one building. Who has that? This is a collaborative space where the whole ecosystem manifests in this building.”
At 152,000 square feet, the Center was designed with coworking in mind: plenty of conference rooms (all named after influential [female] scientists), dedicated Multi Jet Fusion and Metal Jet lab space with hundreds of 3D printing systems operating in an industrial environment, hundreds of HP engineers.
All of this is done, too, with an eye toward sustainability.
From water reuse and recycling to material recycling, there’s a major underlying current of sustainability permeating the work HP — and, fortunately, many big-name players in the 3D printing industry — is doing.
“At a corporate level, sustainability is a big topic for many years,” Schell affirmed.
Calling the area “absolutely a C-suite topic,” he further underscored that for a business to see success in the 21st century, sustainability must be a wide-reaching focus at every level. Schell’s experience in managing the HP Americas business proved that “customers only wanted to engage with sustainability initiatives; executive pay is linked to these.”
At the heart of each topic we discussed, Schell pointed out that there is strong business sense behind each: collaborate with partners to see all parties increase their revenues, develop viable technologies to reach paying customers, invest in a new facility in a strategic location to leverage local and nearby resources of industry and talent, focus on sustainability for long-term potential and immediate trust and incentive.
In particular, HP is in “research mode to quantify the reduction in carbon footprint worldwide with 3D printing,” Schell noted.
“Distributed manufacturing can have a massive impact: only manufacturing when there is demand, and where that demand is,” he said. “Different technologies in 3D printing have different impacts on sustainability; powder, in my eye, is the most impactful in 3D printing, where you can reuse the powder until there is none left.”
Speaking with Schell provided a closer look into the top of HP’s strategic approach to its 3D Printing and Digital Manufacturing business as Industry 4.0 truly takes off. That the meeting was in Barcelona, where HP’s 3D printing history began — in fact we sat about 100 meters from the site of the first R&D in this area — and where much of the European industry is easily reachable also provided a sense of both legacy and forward thinking in this business.
Our meeting was also sandwiched into Schell’s tightly-packed schedule; the day before, he had been in Stuttgart meeting with an automotive company, and immediately following our chat he was off again to the airport for his next engagements. His own agenda is indicative of the speed with which HP itself is keeping up with the industry — that is, full speed ahead.
(Note: Some of this conversation was also published in a recent article I wrote for Forbes.)