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.
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.
Formlabs posted this project to Kickstarter yesterday with the hopes of of securing $100K in funding. In less than two days it has already received over $800,000 from more than 550 backers. With 28 days to go, this project may set a record. Their device, the Form 1 Professional 3D printer ups the quality of desktop 3D printing significantly, with a resolution similar to professional systems costing $30,000 to upwards of $1 million.
It took years for digital printing to reach a quality comparable to offset, in large part because few companies were innovating in that space. Crowdfunding changes the game significantly, allowing multiple small companies to innovate and bring their products to market with unmatched speed. With quality improving so rapidly, one has to wonder how long it will be before they reach production speed. What took companies like Xerox, HP and Canon years to accomplish, is happening now, in this space, in mere months.
For more information check out this post from TechCrunch.