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.
Foxconn CEO, Terry Gou recently said that “3D printing is a gimmick.” Yes, that Foxconn – the world’s biggest mass manufacturer of electronic gadgets like smartphones and tablets. He went on to say that 3D printing “did not mean the advent of a third industrial revolution,” alluding to a 2012 Economist article about 3D printing and how it could reinvent manufacturing.
Even though Foxconn has been using 3D printing for nearly 30 years, Gou was not optimistic about the technology’s future, arguing it was unsuitable for mass production and did not have any real commercial value.
Is it at all surprising that Foxconn’s boss would downplay a technology which clearly has its sights set on mass manufacturing?
Mr. Gou said that while 3D printing might be able to manufacture a phone’s shell, it could not manufacture (or assemble) all of the phone’s inner-workings. While this is true, 3D printers are capable of printing some electronics, and breakthroughs in this area are likely to continue. According to the article, Gou also said that 3D printers were currently incapable of printing leather, leading to unsustainable products which could not be mass produced. Not exactly sure what was meant there, but let’s chalk it up to a translation error. Taken literally, it’s a bit bizarre.
For a moment let’s downplay Mr. Gou’s predictions. What if he’s wrong and 3D printing (digital manufacturing) does deliver on its potential? What if you could offer a huge number of products at nearly any location, with little or no supply chain cost? No commitment to mass production, no packaging, no logistics, no scrap, and no waste. Sounds great, but what about all the other important stuff like product quality, speed to market, and perhaps most importantly, the price of the product itself?
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