Recently, I spoke with GSC’s 3D printing operator extraordinaire, Aaron Niedermann. An expert on all things Markforged and HP, Aaron is my go-to source for any questions regarding the systems. And boy, did I have a lot. So much so, that I’ve actually had to split this interview up into two separate posts (view part 2). Join us, as Aaron I talk about anything and everything HP and Markforged.
This interview has been edited for clarity.
MF: So Aaron, what’s your favorite printer to use?
AN: So, my favorite is definitely an HP. I would have to go with the HP 580 just because it is easy to pack a full build, or bucket, as operators call it. You don’t have to worry as much about build density – that is, the ratio of solid part to powder – like you might on another printer. It’s less strict because the bucket’s volume is lower. This makes it easier to hit that sweet spot of 8% to 10% build density with fewer parts. You aren’t playing with cold math numbers, where you have to meet a minimum build density from an economic standpoint. And you get full colored parts!
The 580 is a really nice machine that makes lots of cool prints. Plus, it’s really reliable, and the parts it produces are really in spec.
MF: Would you say the 580 is more of a production machine or a prototyping machine?
AN: The 580 is absolutely a prototyping machine. The HP 5200 is production-focused all the way, since it can make roughly eight times more parts than the 580.
I still really like working with the Markforged machines. They’re a tool that doesn’t require as much abstract thought. The HP has a lot of really nice steps to take, so you actually feel like you’re doing something. The Markforged is so effortless, it almost doesn’t feel fun!
MF: So since the Markforged is virtually a plug-and-play machine – it’s so reliable and doesn’t require as much operator involvement – you like the HP printers more?
AN: Yeah, exactly.
MF: How easy is it to learn and operate the Markforged and HP machines, respectively?
AN: So for Markforged machines, it takes about two and a half hours to train one person. That includes all the unloading and loading processes; calibration; learning to send prints to the machine; and going through the software, Eiger. The first week following the training session, I might get a few emails from the customer with basic Markforged questions, but generally speaking, they’re self-sufficient.
For the HP machines, a 580 install takes about 3 to 5 days. And 2 to 3 days is learning the actual setup – how to turn the machine on, load material into the machine, post processing part – you get the picture. The rest of training is learning about part orientation, build density, etc.
MF: So you’d say then for an HP machine, it’ll take a week or two to get fully up and running?
AN: Yeah, and you’ll be talking with us a bunch, and that’s why we’re here.
MF: What are your thoughts on HP’s and Markforged’s software?
AN: So Markforged’s Eiger software is very good, very intuitive. They’re actually making it better all the time. They give you updates every couple of weeks, along with new features. Eiger also acts like a little version of PDM software, too. You can upload all your STLs, and then redownload them again whenever you want. So let’s say you have another, non-Markforged machine. Well, you can store all the files in Eiger, so you’ll have them all in one spot whenever you or a member of your team need to re-download them. It’s pretty handy.
For HP software, there’s SmartStream. It’s good because it’s free, it works with any HP machine, and you can manage your HP printer fleat with it. Materialise Magics is another software compatible with HP machines. It’s what we recommend to our customers. Magics is very smart and basically does everything. For the most part, it automatically fixes, orients, and packs parts. It also exports straight to the machine too, so you don’t have to bring the build into SmartStream. Magics is an immensely powerful software.
MF: So, what are the HP printers’ superpowers and kryptonite?
AN: I would say for HP, they’re really good at making a lot of parts. They’re very fast, very consistent, and very economical when operated correctly. These machines are great for low to mid volume manufacturing.
The other side of the HP is that it doesn’t like non-dense parts. People will send me parts that are very similar to a Kleenex box – thin walls and hollow. The big challenge with these kinds of parts is the build density. If you put four of those Kleenex boxes into a bucket, you might have 6% build density. And that’s the issue. You’ll be able to print the parts, sure. But since you’re not running the machine at a high enough build density, you’ll be throwing away some powder that you can’t recycle. If you run the machines at the right build density, you’ll have zero issues with powder recycling and never have wasted material.
MF: So that’s why the HP is a production machine, then?
AN: Yes, that’s why it’s a production machine. If you’re prototyping one or two parts, you’ll be spending a lot of money. If you need a thousand parts a week, the 5200 is the perfect printer for you.
MF: And the Markforged printers’ superpowers and kryptonite?
AN: The Markforged machines are very good at making very strong and very inspec parts. We are always blown away by how precise the Markforged machines are. As for Markforged printer’s kryptonite. They’re an FDM machine at its core. Any FDM machine with one print head is somewhat slower compared to technologies like HP. I wouldn’t say they Markforged is slow, but they’re not high-speed either.
MF: You mentioned how precise the Markforged machines are. What are the tolerances?
AN: Well, when it comes to specifying tolerances, we can hold a couple thou pretty easily on Markforged’s polymer machines. It varies a lot more for the metals. The geometry of the parts and how they’re designed can have a big effect. Certain design elements, like sharp contours or significant changes in aspect ratio, can introduce internal stresses. The Metal X system’s strength is that it’s an affordable metal system. You’re limited by the build volume and the speed of the machine, though. But that’s the trade-off for affordability.
MF: So the Metal X will get you where you need to be without dropping $250k to half a million dollars?
AN: Exactly. And that’s something we get a lot. People expect to get near perfect finish molds straight out of the printer. We can get close, which for most customers is all they need. For a customer that needs exact tolerances, you’re going to have to do some finishing machining. But you would have to do that with any of the top of the line, million-dollar metal systems out there, too.
MF: It’s the nature of the beast, then?
AN: Yes. The tolerances will be very close, but it’s not usually what people expect it to be. It’s Sci-Fi thinking, really. This is a metal machine, ergo, it can print anything out of metal! I think it’s just customers’ perception that the machine has no faults. Like any machine, there are constraints on this one too. It’s not a cure-all. That’s what you need to consider about the Metal X machine – people thinking that it can do impossible feats that any metal printer would struggle with.
Check out Interview Part 2 for more information!
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