What does HP’s 3D Printer Announcement Mean for Japan

HP unveiled its partners for distributing its new series of 3D printer.

By teaming up with HP as the world’s first HP 3D Printing Master Partners, Mutoh and Ricoh will bring best-in-class expertise and knowledge of HP’s Multi Jet Fusion technology to customers deploying the solutions….HP introduces its award-winning commerical 3D printing solution…Japanese businesses are starting to embrace the transformative potential of 3D printing, a market that saw more than 104 percent in revenue growth from 2015 to 2016, according to data from IDC. Its expected to reach $670 million in sales by 2020.

Not too surprising here, Ricoh and Mutoh have a large sales network, maybe two of the largest in Japan, already in place where they can push the printer into hands of their clients. My guess is that they want to show some quick sales on their books and will introduce a different printer down the road. Having seen the printer at expo, it offers a lot of great advantages, but not nearly as ‘groundbreaking’ as people tend to make it out to be. I also think the price point is very good for small-medium businesses in Japan where it will be on the market for around 30,000,000 JPY + service agreements. Although, I’m skeptical that it will have success in that market because the major challenges tend to be application engineering/how to actually use a 3D printer to make more money for a business.

 

HP seems to be aware of this issue when they write:

Mutoh and Ricoh are set to collaborate with HP to open a 3D Printing Reference and Experience Center in Tokyo that will showcase the HP Jet Fusion 3D printing solutions and enable deeper engagement with customers.

It is defiantly a step in the right direction a large part of the success will come down to execution. I think the big challenge is that most small-medium businesses in Japan are almost totally ruled by their CFO/finance department and tend to be rather short sighted about adopting new technical solutions. I believe most of this class tends to think that labor costs are cheaper than the technical solution, but that is typically only true on a marginal basis and overtime the whole company suffers and stagnates. Companies that do adopted HP’s solution and take it seriously as a new capability and skill for their company will benefit greatly, but arguments like that are hard to quantify but these sorts of people get nervous when you say not everything can be quantified.

The 104% YoY growth for 3D printing revenue in Japan is totally bogus. Either it is wrong on factual merits or through tortured econometrics. Business 3D printing did grow but probably by 1/3rd of that and the desktop market either stayed the same or shrank. Either way, I don’t think HP will be a big part of that market based on issues with applicability in Japan, but I hope I’m wrong because it does offer a really good solution for some specific business needs.

Automated Additive Construction Survey

A recent paper Automated Additive Construction (AAC) for Earth and Space Using In-situ Resources is a meta snapshot of current thinking about building big stuff off planet (AAC) and is worth a read for anyone interested in the subject of off-planet 3D printing.

 

Launching mass into space is difficult due to the gravity well of the Earth which requires a
change in velocity impulse (Delta-V) of 9.3 – 10 km/s. This means that complicated space
transportation vehicles must be used to provide a large amount of energy transfer through the use
of chemical rocket propulsion. An additional Delta-V of 6.4 km/s would be required to land this
mass on the surface of Earth’s moon. If in-situ materials could be used on the moon (such as
regolith or regolith derived concrete), to build large civil engineering structures, then large
amounts of mass launched from Earth could be avoided, making space exploration more
economical.

More economical should be replaced with economically possible. They somewhat understand the major economic problems facing this field.  At the current rate of $/gram to leave earth, there is no way we will be able to build anything significant off-planet because it would require a significant % of global economic output, which will never happen for political realities.

I was recently discussing with a Japanese acquaintance why Asia doesn’t have a competitive presence in the space. It struck me that the space industry is almost totally based on the standard of infrastructure, both machine and ‘human capital’ and that technology plays a secondary role. When asked why he located Space X in Southern California, Elon Musk’s answer indicated it was because it had the largest pool of space talent. If this is the case then it also means that any efforts for Automated Additive Construction off-planet will fail if they are not sufficiently robust and simple. Which should automatically disqualify several branches of research from consideration. For example, using ionic liquids or phosphoric acid for metal extraction seems incredibly complicated to scale to be of any use.

However, I do like the  Molten Regolith Electrolysis (MRE) method for material extraction due to producing a metal alloy as well as a ceramic slag. It seems, as a general principle, that producing two distinct materials, especially one with favorable ductility, would open many more construction options. Multi-tools are going to be king in space construction for the same reasons an axe is preferable to a rapier for a frontiersman.

Which also leads me to believe that many solutions for space construction and in situ automated additive construction can be found by looking at the ways we overcame similar challenges crossing oceans for the first time or colonizing a virgin land.

It is also interesting to note that despite a clear upsurge in interest for in situ automated additive construction, Gartner doesn’t seem to have included it on their hype cycle anywhere.