HP is featuring a partnership with Oakley to highlight their 3D print prototyping capabilities.
Oakley is the famous sports brand responsible for many unique designs of sports helmets, accessories, apparel, googles, and of course, sunglasses. They’ve been in business since 1975, and certainly began operations using traditional product development lifecycles.
Oakley Using 3D Printing
HP has been working with Oakley since 2018, supplying them with 3D printing equipment, materials and services. What has Oakley been doing with the HP equipment? It turns out they’ve been doing a great deal of prototyping.
This is quite surprising to me, as I had thought HP’s 3D printing technology was more suited for production use, rather than prototyping. This is because of the unique approach HP uses in their MJF process.
HP MJF 3D Printing Process
In MJF, or “Multi Jet Fusion”, the machines use an inkjet-style process to selectively deposit liquid droplets on a powder bed. HP’s technology allows each individual droplet to be controlled, and thus in certain models you are able to control color texture voxel by voxel. This is ideal for companies developing full color consumer products.
However, there’s always been a challenge with the MJF process in that after printing, the entire print bed – a large rectangular container full of powder and binder – must be cooled down. Due to the size of the build volume, this can take quite a bit of time, particularly for HP’s larger gear.
As a result, it has generally been considered that MJF is more suited to production throughput rather than one-off prototyping. Indeed, most of HP’s 3D printer models sport rather large build volumes in which you could produce many parts during each build. While the duration of the production sequence might be a bit long, the number of units produced is extensive, thus leading to high production throughput statistics.
HP Color 3D Printers
In an attempt to overcome this limitation, HP released a line of 3D printers that had much smaller build volumes: the HP 300 / 500 series of full color 3D printers. However, there is still a wait of hours before the prints can cool down, and I had thought this might dampen the prospects for rapid turnaround prototyping.
Now HP details the experience of one of their clients, Oakley, with regards to their prototyping experience. It turns out that Oakley has indeed been using HP MJF equipment for product prototyping, and in particular for full-color prototyping.
According to the Oakley designers in this video, they are able to receive finished prototypes in only 24 hours, far faster than they had previously been subjected to.
Different Ways To 3D Print Prototypes
I initially thought that 24 hours was too long to wait for a prototype, as compared to the capabilities of some other equipment, but then after some consideration, it may be that this scenario is actually quite feasible for many companies.
Consider the situation where the digital CAD design of a new prototype takes a day to complete, which is likely the case in many development labs. If it takes that long to design, then a wait of a day is entirely acceptable, as you could design the next version while awaiting results from the first iteration.
Here’s another thought: when designing consumer products, it is highly likely a large number of possible product configurations and colors are to be evaluated. In such situations, a good approach might be to design and 3D print ALL of the possibilities at once and then lay them out for those in charge to examine and select winners.
Both of those scenarios would fit very well with the HP MJF options, and it seems that Oakley is finding the same.