What Could HP Do for 3D Printing?

As I was walking around the GraphExpo show in Chicago last week, one nagging thought kept recurring. What’s different from last time I was here? Sure there were a few new software players and some new digital presses, but really, what had changed since the last time I was there in 2007? Nothing really revolutionary. Pretty much every program, every device, and every finishing solution was dedicated to putting ink on paper. While I’m not ready to argue that print as an overall business is dying, some of the killer applications I saw in 2007 are either dead or on life support. Software manuals? Digital. Statements? Paperless. Just this week in fact, Newsweek announced that they’re going to a digital-only format after 80 years as a printed magazine. What is the industry’s plan for a future with even less print?

I spent a lot of time talking with vendors like Lexmark and HP. I asked how they were doing in light of their companies overall performance and their respective decisions to exit the desktop inkjet printer market. Most seemed to feel insulated from that side of the business. In fact the production people at HP gave me the impression that they were one of the only shining stars inside the company. I sat in their booth wondering how long that tugboat could drag the barge behind it. They’ll need to pivot soon or get ready to join Kodak on death row.

Then today I read this fascinating piece on how 3D printing could save HP. It seems like a natural pivot for them. They’ve got the infrastructure and experience of producing devices on a large scale. They understand the consumable side. They’ve got an extensive distribution network. They still spend a ton on R&D and could easily redirect some of it or acquire one of the many smaller startups that have taken an early lead in the 3D market.

The market is developing rapidly and it seems new applications are being announced every day.

To reach scale rapidly, a lot of infrastructure needs to be developed. So maybe the bigger question is, what could HP do for 3D printing? With their considerable experience in development, design and packaging, they could certainly help better “productize” 3D printers for the home market. With considerable technical and marketing resources they could help simplify the software, mainstream awareness of the technology, and flush out applications for its use.

While all of that would benefit the tabletop market, it would also create demand for production printing, an area where HP has a lot of experience. If anybody can successfully introduce and evangelize 3D printing among 2D printing companies, its HP. Printers know and trust their products. They’ve got the relationships, sales, and technical expertise to swim in that pond. They have the resources and partnerships to finance big deals. They know how to manufacture industrial equipment. They’ve got a world-wide service network that knows how to install and support production gear.

The market is ripe and getting riper. Piper Jaffray projects 3D Printing to be a $1.5B market in 2012 and Wohlers Associates predicts it will be $6.5B by 2019. So if not HP, then who? One of the existing players like 3D Systems, Stratasys, or Objet? Maybe. They do have a significant head-start in this arena. But none of those companies is forecasted to generate over $500 Million in sales this year. HP did over $27 Billion in 2011. If it wanted to, HP could swallow all three whole without exhausting its annual R&D budget. Another digital company like Xerox? Maybe, but their stock is a lot healthier than HP’s and if history is any guide, Xerox rarely pivots until its back is against the wall. Kodak? Probably too late for that kind of maneuver.

Regardless of how it all shakes out we firmly believe traditional printing companies have an opportunity to participate and benefit from this emerging technology. 3D4Printers.com is dedicated to helping traditional printers keep their eye on this exciting market. If you’d like more information on 3D printing and how you can incorporate it as a capability, CONTACT US today.

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One response to “What Could HP Do for 3D Printing?”

  1. Dave Lewis says :

    You have missed 3D Systems! Publicly traded, making aggressive acquisitions, and they have a HUGE range of printers. DDD on the NYSE

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