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From DFactory to HP Factory, via IAM3DHUB

We went inside one of the largest AM factories in the world, in Barcelona's state of the art facility

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The economic development zone around Barcelona, in Catalunya (Spain), has emerged as a leading hub for 3D printing and additive manufacturing driven by the many local activities in design, IT, aerospace and automotive. The fact that HP, the largest company in the world directly involved in additive manufacturing is based here, in Sant Cugat, is one of the main drivers of the region’s global leadership. At the same time, Catalan institutions, and technological organizations such as Leitat have embraced AM as a key driver of tomorrow’s (and today’s) economic growth. All this know-how and capabilities have come together at the DFactory facility, as well as the HP factory and IAM3DHUB lab, which 3dpbm was recently invited to visit.

DFactory was created with Leitat’s support to become a hub for the creation of an ecosystem to encourage the promotion and development of industry 4.0. The center is a tool to boost the transformation of South Europe’s productive framework and support companies during their digital digitization process. The modern and elegant facility is promoted and managed by the Consorci de la Zona Franca de Barcelona, which has been working to establish Barcelona as the center of 4.0 innovation in Southern Europe. It promotes an ecosystem to attract talent, technology and investment in a unique space that gathers the most innovative companies and the most forward-looking technological projects.

From DFactory to HP Factory, via IAM3DHUB, we got to go inside one of the largest AM factories in the world

Designed by Torrella Engineering, in collaboration with PGI Engineering, Turull Sorensen and Ágora Project Management – Tüv Sud, the DFactory building stands out for the style of its architecture, combining the old factories’ industrial style with a glass finish, open interior spaces and state-of-the-art technology for sustainable buildings.

The first floor (out of four) is the largest and it is also the one where most of the additive manufacturing-related activity takes place. Upon entering the facility, on the right-hand side, there is the new HP Factory, which was inaugurated in September last year. On the left-hand side, there is the space dedicated to IAM3DHUB, an advanced multi-technology laboratory founded to boost the adoption of AM technologies.

Inside the HP Factory

With over 20 HP Jet Fusion 5200 series 3D printers in operation, the new HP factory facility is one of the largest AM-based industry 4.0 automated factories in the world. Pablo Murciego, HP Factory Manager, took the time to show us around and detail the factory’s current and upcoming capabilities in terms of automation and productivity.

The HP factory is divided into 3 main areas and takes up a total of 1,200 square meters, of which 900 square meters are factory space, while the rest is split between the warehouse and office spaces. The purpose of the facility is three-fold. On the one hand, it is a full production facility, delivering parts for key specific applications and customers where HP has decided to play. On the other, it is intended to help HP engineers continuously learn and improve the additive end-to-end workflow as well as to be a showcase to key customers. Finally, HP can help its customers internalize and scale production using MJF by developing and validating additive manufacturing solutions from an end/end point of view.

This process includes a part assessment phase, with alignment on product QC and process recipe. This is followed by what Murciego refers to as Production Burst, validating and identifying consistent variables within the workflow and setting up process capability targets. The last phase, which is referred to as Bridge to Scale, consists of developing the factory blueprint, with MJF factory hardware and software deployment, optimization of TCO (total cost of ownership) targets and automation opportunities.

Based on ISO 52920 standards (Additive manufacturing — Qualification principles — Requirements for industrial additive manufacturing processes and production sites) the production value chain of the HP Factory includes 8 steps. The workflow begins the verification of part requirements, moving on to design & job preparation. Powder (material) management begins with the next phase of feedstock management (including material control, system maintenance, calibration, etc.) and moves on to the actual 3D printing process (including QMS, telemetry data, and powder quality control). It continues through post-processing (cooling and unpacking) and concludes with part-specific post-processing (cleaning). The final stages involve part quality evaluation, packing (sorting) and shipping out.

Even with its existing large batch serial production capabilities, the state-of-the-art HP Factory itself is considered a work-in-progress, in constant evolution. Many parts of the workflow, from materials supply to several aspects of part extraction, post-processing and finishing, have already been highly automated. Murciego and his team have identified other areas and opportunities to improve the process further, focusing primarily on P-T /Process Time (the duration of the end-to-end workflow), LUR/Labor Utilization Rate (the total labor content divided by the sum of labor content and total idle time) and QA/Quality Assurance (process robustness in terms of reproducibility and repeatability).

From DFactory to HP Factory, via IAM3DHUB, we got to go inside one of the largest AM factories in the world

Inside the IAM3DHUB lab

To some extent that is exactly the objective of IAM3DHUB. The laboratory is located exactly across from the HP Factory, on the first floor of the DFactory, and conducts research on various AM technologies, materials and post-processing systems, including metal laser PBF for metal. IAM3DHUB welcomes partners across the entire spectrum of AM and works with them, and potential AM adopters, to explore the possibilities offered by each technology. Ramon Pastor, Vice-president & General Manager HP 3D Printing Business, is also the president of IAM3DHUB which shows how much HP is involved with and invested in the laboratory. However, in line with HP’s overall objective of broadening AM adoption and expanding the AM market, the goal of the lab is to accelerate the adoption and development of additive manufacturing technologies in Europe as an alternative way to design, develop and manufacture new competitive products and services that strengthens their competitiveness.

As a digital innovation hub and competence center in additive manufacturing, IAM3DHUB provides SMEs a one-stop-shop to assess, guide and address all their needs in AM. In order to do this, the lab can count on official partners from the AM industry, including hardware companies such as HP, Renishaw and Massivit, materials companies like BASF, AM service experts like Materialise, and post-processing specialists such as AMT, AM Solutions and GPA Innova/DLyte, as well as the support of the local government. Other companies, such as BigRep, are not official partners but make their technologies available.

From DFactory to HP Factory, via IAM3DHUB, we got to go inside one of the largest AM factories in the world

The Metals Lab inside IAM3DHUB gives access to SLM technology via a Renishaw RenAM 500 system. This has brought immediate benefits to both users of metal AM and Renishaw, which has seen the installed base of its metal AM systems grow in Spain over the past few years. The Polymers Lab is larger and divided into two main areas: extrusion-based technology and powder-based technology. IAM3DHUB conducts research on several different filament extrusion systems, including a large format BigRep machine, as well as most variations of vat photopolymerization processes (SLA, DLP, LCD). Research on powder technologies currently focuses on HP’s MJF process, in a dedicated lab, even as participation is open to all other companies in this segment. Another large polymer machine from Massivit, which implements a unique gel deposition process for high-speed production of very large parts, is also present in the external area of the lab, where many of the post-processing systems are also located. This larger external area also includes a sand-based VX200 system from voxeljet.

Ongoing research at the lab focuses on design for additive manufacturing (DfAM) and engineering for additive manufacturing (EfAM) as well as guiding management and technical teams to identify AM transformation opportunities, developing cost-optimized adoption and implementation strategies. Enterprises can also turn to IMA3DHUB for employee training, E2E networking and, most importantly, testing before investing.

A standard collaboration project beings with an experimentation phase to identify and create new products, applications and tools that can benefit from AM. These are then benchmarked using different AM technologies and materials. The most suitable solutions are selected to create final applications and are validated to meet the mechanical and functional requirements desired. The final stage, implementation, focuses on scaling the usage of AM by implementing production workflows and equipment. Having one of the largest MJF factories in the world just next door, inside the DFactory, sure comes in handy.

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