The customizable future: 7 products you didn’t know were 3D printed

From upending 500 years of Vatican history to a printer that prints itself, HP’s Multi Jet Fusion 3D printing technology is changing the custom manufacturing game.

By Sarah Murry — August 21, 2018

The Swiss Guard is the oldest standing army (and the smallest) in the world and for five centuries they have guarded Vatican City in their colorful striped uniforms and large metal helmets. Until now, that is. This year, the Guard plans to start wearing lightweight, plastic helmets, printed by an HP 3D printer using Multi Jet Fusion technology.

“Multi Jet Fusion has moved beyond being a solution for prototyping and small-run 3D production to become a viable technology for large-scale, full-production 3D manufacturing,” says Michelle Bockman, HP’s global head of 3D printing commercial expansion and development. “The genie has left the bottle on the adoption of industrial-scale 3D production, and it keeps accelerating.”

3D printing allows all different types of industries from automotive to healthcare to consumer goods reconceptualize the way old products are made and create new, exciting — and potentially life-altering — ones.

Here is a roundup of the types of products printed by HP’s Multi Jet Fusion printers.

Swiss Guard helmets

The Pontifical Swiss Guard — the force that guards the Pope and serves as the private army of of Vatican City — isn’t known for being fashion-forward. Their formal dress uniform hasn’t changed much since the 1500s, and features the vibrant hues of the House of Medici in blue, red, orange and yellow, topped with a helmet bearing a glorious crest of red plumes. But when guards suffered burns from the steel helmets heating up in the sun, HP helped replace the metal helmets with 3D-printed plastic ones that were durable, lightweight, weather-proof and much cooler, thanks to ventilation channels inside. “The Vatican looked for a solution that would make the helmets more lightweight and comfortable for the guards, without sacrificing any of their iconic style,” Bockman says. “They were able to create new helmets that met their high standards of form and function and bring a beloved 16th century tradition into the 21st century.”

“Black Panther” Brisk Iced Tea can

Marvel’s “Black Panther” took audiences to the vibrant, multifaceted world of Wakanda, where things are not always as they seem. The same holds true for a limited run marketing campaign with PepsiCo, where the beverage giant tapped Multi Jet Fusion to revamp the packaging of a special limited edition set of Brisk Iced Tea cans. The set of five cans reflect the starring characters in the film, but its centerpiece is the real stunner. It’s a collection-worthy, 3D-printed can featuring T’Challa himself, whose intricate costume comes to life with the help of a fold-out backdrop that glows with blue LEDs. Some 250 sets of the cans were sent to VIPs, reviewers and social media influencers along with a preview of the film before it debuted — to record-breaking box office success — in February. While the cans weren’t available to the public, some have sold on eBay to the tune of $60 a set. 

Robo-arms for industrial painting

Nuno Neves, co-founder of FICEP Steel Surface Systems (S3), dreamt up the perfect part for one of the company’s manufacturing systems on a train from Paris to Milan, but such technology didn’t yet exist. To make it work for the Barcelona-based engineering and R&D company, the part needed to be both strong and lightweight. Multi Jet Fusion helped it come to be, with an ingenious robotic arm that was later incorporated into FICEP S3’s daVINCI painting machine. By using 3D-printed parts, FICEP S3 replaced as much as 40 percent of the machine’s traditionally manufactured parts and eliminated about 2,000 molds previously necessary for production.

Wiivv sandals

At the nexus of SoCal surf culture, San Diego is most definitely a flip-flop sandal kind of town. It makes sense that it’s home to  Wiivv (pronounced “weave”) a company that uses Multi Jet Fusion to create customized insoles for sandals that are shaped to your foot. The company developed a smartphone app that enables users to upload photos of their feet and then digitally map them for beach-ready shoes that offer a perfect fit. (Former HP Imaging and Printing Group head Vyomesh Joshi is an early seed investor.)

Crispin Orthotics leg brace

 UK-based Crispin Orthotics is using the capabilities of HP's Multi Jet Fusion to make custom-printed support devices for almost any part of the body, including ankles, knees, wrists and even the spine. They cost less than the traditional carbon fiber versions and can be made to exacting specifications, including the thickness of the support, increasing or reducing the angle of a joint or adding padding in areas of extra pressure. Compared to previous designs, the 3D-printed orthotics are flexible, lightweight and much less bulky, which not only look better but also help speed up patients’ rehabilitation. “Companies like Crispin are creating lightweight, custom-fitted leg braces that are improving their customers’ quality of life in ways that were previously impossible,” Bockman says. 

nivellipso dental aligner

Switzerland’s nivellmedical AG is pioneering one of the fastest-growing trends in tech — DIY dental care and orthodontia. What makes nivellmedical a standout is its use of Multi Jet Fusion to 3D print a series of custom-made, clear, biodegradable plastic dental aligners that with minute adjustments over time, will gradually straighten a patient’s teeth. “That ability to not only custom create things to the tiniest specifications, but also make them better, faster and more cost-effectively than previously possible, is something that’s unique to Multi Jet Fusion whether you’re producing a single set of dental aligners, hundreds of helmets or thousands of auto parts,” Bockman says.

HP Jet Fusion 300/500 printer


Tech companies often talk about “eating their own dog food” — an insider term for using your own products. But HP takes it one step further with its Jet Fusion 300 and 500 full-color 3D printers, which has been billed as “the printer that prints itself.” That’s a bit of a misnomer, but it points to the fact that something like 140 different custom plastic parts inside are produced with the HP Multi Jet Fusion printer system itself. It’s not just HP’s 3D printers that see the benefits of having the tech in-house. In one of its (traditional paper) printer lines, the company was able to lower the cost of producing a key part by 50 percent and reduce its carbon footprint by 95 percent by leveraging digital design and manufacturing.

Learn about how the digital manufacturing revolution can benefit everyone.