Multi Jet Fusion (MJF) levels the playing field for US & Canadian manufacturers
Multi Jet Fusion made a commercial debut in May 2016. Its runaway success and continually soaring adoption for a variety of use cases has led companies to question whether going offshore to China for products sold in North America still offers the cost advantages it once did.
The simple answer is no – but there’s more to it than meets the eye. Let’s learn more about MJF before we dive into this in more detail.
What is Multi Jet Fusion, how does it work, and why is it revolutionary?
Multi Jet Fusion (MJF) is a commercial-grade additive manufacturing process that uses powdered thermoplastics. Developed by printing-technology specialists HP, MJF isn’t a complicated technology – but it is sophisticated.
To create a part, a design file is uploaded to the printer and the build is started, laying down a thin layer of powdered material across the working area. The printing and fusing carriage inside the printer made up of a thermal inkjet array and energy sources (depicted in the schematic diagram below) scans from right-to-left across the working area.
Next, the leading (or frontal) energy source heats up the working area to control the temperature of each layer as it is printed. Functional agents are then printed in precise locations – which defines the part’s geometry and its properties. The printing and fusing carriage moves from left-to-right to fuse the areas that were just printed.
Each time the carriage returns to one of the perimeters, the supply bins refill the recoater with fresh material. After each layer is printed, the material recoater carriage scans in the reverse direction, and just like that, one layer after another, a part is produced based on specifications supplied in the computerized design file uploaded to the machine.
While this is a simplified explanation of how HP’s sophisticated MJF technology works, there are several nuances that must be kept in mind when designing a part that is to be manufactured using MJF. Of course, learning how to use MJF takes a little practice, experience, and guidance, but it is definitely worth the effort.
MJF was invented in May 2016 and has since been widely adopted across industries. Use cases exist in all spheres including automotive, aerospace, healthcare and medical devices, consumer goods, industrial engineering, and even higher education, and demand continues to soar.
There’s no doubt that the technology is robust, but Multi Jet Fusion has another major advantage – its brand. HP established itself as a leader in the 2D print space over the span of two decades; in the 3D printing world, MJF is a blockbuster.
The company is using its resources and expertise to try to find ways to improve the technology and speed up lead times; it is also forging partnerships with materials makers such as BASF to ensure MJF users can truly achieve great feats with the technology.
The two most common filament used by HP’s MJF are PA 11 and PA 12 – they’re both nylon and have all of the properties of the material but the interesting thing is that while PA 12 is made using petroleum resources, PA 11 is made from a renewable resource (castor oil) and hence, is classified as a ‘bioplastic’ and naturally lends itself to use by companies that care about their impact on the environment.
While MJF has delivered results, it has great potential for future innovations. Backed by HP, MJF is seen as a dependable solution by a variety of manufacturers who are keen to move the production of certain parts away from less efficient manufacturing processes and towards MJF.
The economics of offshoring in the Multi Jet Fusion era
Before MJF, companies that outsourced the manufacturing of some of its parts to China reaped a significant cost advantage. In the Multi Jet Fusion (MJF) era, that might not be true anymore.
The industrial MJF printers that HP sells cost the same whether they’re bought in North America, China, or anywhere else in the world.
Unlike other manufacturing processes, MJF isn’t dependent on cheap labor – which automatically nullifies the cost advantages offered by China and other offshoring economies. In fact, with some help from post-processing equipment from companies such as DyeMansion, MJF-driven production can be an incredibly hands-off process and managed with a team of just one or two workers and a trained operator.
Click here to learn more about post-processing, watch a Webinar hosted by DyeMansion where Advantage Engineering’s Mark Rauth spoke on the topic at length.
Finally, with regards to materials – while pricing is expected to be the same everywhere, the reality is that there are ways and means that can allow companies overseas to gain a slight cost advantage. However, this doesn’t translate to a significant difference in price.
When producing offshore, companies need to pay a significantly higher price for logistics. In recent times, this has been a big challenge. Not only have prices for goods being brought into North America from China increased astronomically but so have wait times. In today’s world, this fact alone plays a significant role in determining whether offshoring remains beneficial.
At the end of the day, it seems like it’s the end of an era. MJF has truly leveled the playing field and companies must really rethink their strategy and see if they want to continue to work with China. Doing to manufacture in that part of the world isn’t wrong in any way – it’s just not as attractive, that’s all.
For companies currently using another process to manufacture its parts in China and evaluating whether transitioning to MJF will work for them, this is a good time to bring production back home.
A good partner in North America not only will be able to offer cost advantages but also provide the necessary guidance to help with that transition. Advantage Engineering is no stranger to such projects and has helped several companies with a multitude of critical MJF-related projects.