HP Getting into 3D Printing - But How Big?

By Doug Mohney October 24, 2013

Among the news out of Asia this week is the revelation that HP is going to enter the 3D printer market. But, details remain vague on the type of device and market it will be targeted at. Is HP going big vs. small?

HP CEO Meg Whitman told the Canalys Channels Forum in Bangkok that the company will enter the 3D printer market by the middle of 2014, according to a report posted by The Register. Whitman said the company was "excited" about 3D printing and wants to "lead" in the business.

Among technology improvements HP might bring to the table are faster printing speeds and lower costs. Whitman compared the current time it takes to print an object to "watching ice melt."

Earlier this month, I suggested HP get out of enterprise hardware and get into 3D printing. A personalized 3D printer appears not to be HP's first move, however, judging from the story appearing in The Register. The company is instead looking at something bigger for the service provider market. I guess HP is looking to pump revenue into the stores formerly known as Kinko's and other copy shops, along with more classic mail-order establishments and the local Home Depot.

Amazon would also be a likely 3D printer customer, given its warehouse expansion across the U.S. Instead of a building full of trinkets and beads, a larger establishment would have a 3D printer farm cranking out items on demand. HP would win by selling printers and the all-important raw materials necessary for printing, along with service contracts on hardware that it so dearly loves.

HP believes it has about three years before 3D printing gets really hot, but everyone making (conventional) printers has to be eyeing the space given the similarities in business models.   Canon, Fujitsu, Lenovo, and Samsung are all likely tinkering with prototypes and product plans.

I also wonder if HP should be thinking about consumers more aggressively upon market entry. Individuals and businesses will likely want to run proof copies of items before sending off a design to a service bureau for duplication and/or distribution. A consumer model could help emphasize the HP brand to existing and new generations of customers because you'll certainly see 3D printers moving into K-12 over the next five years, promoted by STEM-concerned educators and funded by popcorn sales, car washes, and bake sales.   HP gains little if the education market goes to another brand.

There's also a mid-market opportunity for verticals such as health care and other businesses that want rapid prototyping and the ability to build customized parts. HP would do well with a professional-grade 3D printer that is a step down from the service bureau mass production model.

Edited by Blaise McNamee

Contributing Editor

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