According to an article in The Register, HP CEO Meg Whitman recently told the Canalys Channels Forum in Bangkok that the company will enter the 3D printer market in the middle of 2014.
The idea of HP getting into the 3D printing business is not new. In fact they were already in it once, in a European partnership with Stratasys. There have been several articles written on the topic, including my take here on 3D4printers.com.
I wrote that article a year ago, after returning from GraphExpo, the largest 2D printing show in the USA. I felt then that HP needed to get into 3D printing and could do a lot for the industry. I’ve been watching them since and am not shocked by the announcement or the timing.
“3D printing is in its infancy” Ms. Whitman said. “It is a big opportunity and we are all over it. We will have something by the middle of next year.”
What I think a lot of people have missed is that HP intends to go after the production part of the market.
Also according to the article, That “something” will be aimed at service providers to help them establish 3D printing bureaus. Whitman said HP is asking “how do we commercialize to print faster, at lower price points?, to enable service providers?”
HP’s goal is to commoditize 3D printing by developing the 3D print-for-pay industry. They know from their experience in digital printing how to make money in production.
Whitman did not say just what form HP’s 3D printing product will take, over than to say it will be a “new technology”.
Here’s a theory. What if its not new technology, just newly retired from patent protection? Several key laser sintering patents expire early next year. It would be a pretty amazing play for HP. Let 3D Systems and Stratasys (among others) spend decades conducting R&D and building a market, only to come in as the patents expire and quickly dominate.
Read a certain way, this sounds more like a forecast than a whimsical statement.
“These businesses go along, get a little traction, go along, get a little more traction, then hit the knee of the curve,” Ms. Whitman said, She went on to say she feels 3D printing’s knee is around three years off.
Very interesting times.
Working mainly in the print industry, John Hauer has nearly 25 years experience in sales, marketing, product management, and technology. John has launched several B2B and B2C websites. In 2012 he co-founded 3DLT and started 3D4printers.com, which evangelizes 3D printing in the traditional 2D printing space.
While we’ve been off focusing on other initiatives, others have taken up the mantle that 3D printing has a lot in common with 2D printing. Check out this recent article that suggests much of the recent anxiety around 3D printing stems from lessons learned in traditional, 2D printing. For us, it’s further validation that 2D printers are doing themselves a disservice if they don’t keep a very close eye on 3D printing. Further, 3D printing needs more people from a traditional printing background.
The industry is sorting out many of the same challenges traditional printers have faced. From counterfeit, copyright, and censorship, which are mentioned in the article, to more pragmatic concerns like pre-flight and finishing, the 3D printing industry now, reminds us a lot of the digital printing industry in the early 1990’s. Others who lived through that technology evolution could bring a lot of experience to what promises to be the next industrial revolution – 3D printing.
Many in the industry consider prototypes the primary or, “killer” application for 3D printing. Why? Because new products are typically designed using 3D software, they’re also “print ready,” making them low hanging fruit for anyone with a 3D printer. But because of 3D printing, more prototypes are also “production ready.” The prototype is the product! This allows people to disrupt the traditional product innovation process, making 3D printing a fast track to innovation.
Industry insider and MakerBot CEO, Bre Pettis certainly drinks the kool-aid. He says,
“Makerbot is an innovation company.” We innovate ourselves to empower other people to innovate. Our mission is to jumpstart the next industrial revolution.”
How exactly does 3D printing help people innovate? By flattening process and removing upfront cost.
Yesterday I read a piece from Marc Lefton in AG Beat, entitled “How to Take Advantage of Print Media While They Still Exist.” I was struck by a number of thoughts. First, I thought how inflamatory the title would have been even a couple of years ago. Second, as I read into it, found myself questioning Mr. Lefton’s assertion that businesses can get a better rate of return by advertising in local newspapers than online – been there tried that, and didn’t like the result.
The biggest chord struck for me in the article though, was his explanation of the “Newspaper Business Plan.” It imagines someone pitching the concept and current process of publishing and distributing a newspaper to venture capital.
“Our plan is to take yesterday’s news, quickly create a beautiful “layout” with computer software and designers working day and night, then print millions of copies overnight in a huge printing plant using millions of dollars in equipment. We’ll then send these “newspapers” to distribution points all around the city. From there, we will utilize an army thirteen-year-old boys on bicycles who will distribute the newspapers door to door in their neighborhood after school in exchange for gratuities from our customers so they can go buy Topps baseball cards, Silly String, and Now-N-Laters. And we’ll support the whole thing with advertising. We think printing last week’s help wanted ads and apartment listings will be a surefire revenue driver!”
Don’t to forget yesterday’s sports box scores and winning lottery numbers, right?
Then I started thinking, how would this script look in another scenario? Maybe statement billing?
The 3D print-for-pay market is set to explode. Recent advancements in 3D printing, fueled in part by investment from crowdfunding initiatives, are creating a demand for 3D printed objects. Not only are consumers purchasing 3D desktop printers for home use, they’re paying others to print on their behalf, locally at 3D print shops, and online via web-to-print (W2P) sites. An entire industry is being developed to support this demand, creating opportunities from creation to delivery. I’m so bullish on this market that I recently created a blog to cover it and promote its growth.
In 2008, I had the opportunity to partner with the University of Cincinnati’s College of Business and guest lecture a group of undergraduate students. We tasked an Internet Marketing class with developing niche websites that would sell printed products to consumers. The class broke into groups, developed their pitches and shared with the group. We voted and the group elected to move forward with a site that would allow consumers to design and order business card-sized mini resumes. We determined what platform we would sell on, how we would market the site, and how we would produce our product. All we needed was financing.
Crowdfunding has the potential to remove the financial barrier – especially for those in the 3D printing business. Crowdfunding projects can be created quickly and inexpensively, often requiring little more than a working prototype and a kick-ass video. Those economics get even better when your prototype IS your product, as is the case with items printed on demand, in 3D. Several 3D printing projects have already successfully funded on crowdfunding platforms like Kickstarter and Indiegogo. Even though most of these are related to 3D hardware and software, they’ve paved the way by creating a lot of buzz and educating potential backers about the technology.
Which leads to a thought…maybe there’s a formula here for creating new 3D web-to-print sites?
CROWD + 3D PRINT APPS = NICHE WEBSITE IDEA FACTORY
We recently shared our take on why 2D is like 3D printing. While we conceded that the devices themselves are different, we made the argument that the process of printing in two or three dimensions is essentially the same:
File is created >> File is sent to print device >>
File is printed >> Item is finished (bindery/decoration)
We also made the point that like 2D printing, the 3D printing market will eventually service customers at home (via desktop printers), online (via web-to-print) and at retail (via 3D print shops.) The retail channel has yet to be developed and we think this represents a huge opportunity for traditional printers, print franchises, big box office supply stores, and shipping companies like FedEx and UPS.
One of the objections raised by some in these markets is that the substrates and consumables used in 3D are too dissimilar from those used in traditional printing.
Everybody remember the Formlabs Form 1? It’s the desktop 3D printer that raised nearly $3 million a couple of months ago on Kickstarter. Part of its allure was the quality of output it could produce, rivaling the output of printers costing $30,000 to a million or more. According to the team’s project page on Kickstarter:
“Our reason for starting this project is simple: there are no low-cost 3D printers that meet the quality standards of the professional designer. As researchers at the MIT Media Lab, we were lucky to experience the best and most expensive fabrication equipment in the world. But, we became frustrated by the fact that all the professional-quality 3D printers were ridiculously expensive (read: tens of thousands of dollars) and were so complex to use. In 2011, we decided to build a solution to this problem ourselves, and we are now ready to share it with the world.”
Now it turns out that Formlabs may have violated a patent belonging to 3D Systems, one of the companies that makes those expensive, professional-quality 3D printers. Clearly 3D Systems was not happy and yesterday announced that they’ve filed a patent infringement suit against Formlabs and Kickstarter.
Shapeways will be hiring engineers (AKA pre-press technicians), machine operators, and fulfillment staff to support a new 3D print shop in New York City that can produce up to 5 million objects yearly. At a low-ball estimate of $10 each that’s a $50 Million business. We’re guessing each object we’ll probably sell for closer to $20.
To learn more about the new factory, check out this article on Fast Company. It reminds us of 2D digital print facility. The equipment even looks like a production digital print device (Indigo or Xeikon maybe?)
Seems like there is too much money on the table for traditional printing companies to ignore this market much longer.
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