Dell Beats HP to Market with 3D Printer Solution

By Rob Enderle January 28, 2014

Dell entered the 3D printer solutions market today and that’s big news.  Dell and HP compete heavily with workstations and printers so you’d assume that HP, who is massively dominant in printers and generally leads Dell in workstations, would be the first to jump on the emerging 3D printer opportunity.   In fact, given HP’s critical parts used in a variety of 3D printers and even merged the division that makes printers - you’d think Dell was screwed in this race and would be unable to compete.   We’ll, today Dell brought a workstation linked 3D printing solution to market and beat HP. 

Color me surprised. Even though HP had a massive lead, Dell moved around them by being both more agile and more flexible. Let me explain.

3D Printers

There are four major trends you’ll see play out in the technology market this year which are relatively new.  3D Printing solutions, robotics, advanced batteries (super conductors), and decision engines (AI).   Google just entered the robotic market, Super Conductors are mostly being applied to the automotive market, decision engines are now connected to IBM Watson and Google recently acquired an AI firm. 3D Printing is also scaling this year and resembles the launch of PCs with many of the products being started by small companies and big firms largely absent.  But the first company to connect the dots will have ‘first mover’ advantages and given 3D printing is heavily used in prototyping, this advantage should drive them into companies they currently haven’t penetrated.   

This is a powerful advantage so how did Dell get there first?

Image via Shutterstock.

Dell’s Advantage

Dell doesn’t build printers, they buy them built to their specifications and Dell, compared to HP, is far less complex.  This means that while HP feels they must build most of their solution, Dell is more willing to partner and, in fact has taken partnering to an art form.   In addition they are now private which removes the constant focus on quarterly profit and revenue, allowing them to gamble short term profits for long term strategic gains. 

This simplicity and lack of forced focus on quarterly numbers also allows the company to move strategically, more quickly.   They don’t have to get tons of approvals to partners, as they did, with Maker Bot to do this.  In fact it they wanted to buy the company the path wouldn’t be that much longer.   In HP’s case, they had to favor their own printing division making a partnership impossible to get approval for and the market is moving so fast they apparently can’t get their own solution to a phase where it is competitive quickly enough.

The nature of an emerging market like this is that the advancements are simply too rapid for a large company to match.   Over the last year, we have moved from products that printed in one color and in plastic to mixed material printing, metals and ceramics - and it’s just getting started.  

Dell can partner with each company that has a strategic lead and they can then choose which one to purchase or just set a specification like they do with the rest of their printer line.   

HP’s Problem

HP’s been under pressure to divest printers for some time and this will add to the pressure.  When HP comes to market with a product Dell can just shift to a more advanced solution making it look like the market leader in printers is chasing Dell.   It is hard to appear like the market leader if you are constantly seen as behind someone else.   Good for Dell but not for HP.   In the end, HP will have to close this gap or lose significant 3D printer and workstation business and the only way to do that in a timely enough manner may be to follow Dell’s lead and make its own printer division look redundant. 

Wrapping Up:  Nicely Played

Dell’s move to go private made them into a much faster moving firm willing to take bigger risks.  This is the first early example of this capability and I expect we’ll see moves by Dell into one or more of the other emerging areas shortly.   The company is on a tear and its new structure and willingness to take risks could redefine both how we view it and its already redefining product set.  Suddenly Dell is now a player in 3D printing and HP, in particular, should sit-up and take notice.   

Edited by Stefania Viscusi

President and Principal Analyst, Enderle Group

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