3D printing's great mystery: Where's HP?

3D printing's great mystery: Where's HP?

Summary: HP could roll out its 3D printing lineup tomorrow and there's a good argument that the company is too late. Perhaps Stratasys or 3D Systems is the next HP?


Hewlett-Packard CEO Meg Whitman in March said watching 3D print projects complete was like "watching ice melt," that quality was lax and that her company "solved both of those problems."

Whitman's riff on 3D printing was in response to a shareholder question at HP's annual meeting. Off script, Whitman said there would be an announcement in June about HP's 3D printing plans, which would address the enterprise market first.

We're still waiting. HP could roll out its 3D printing lineup tomorrow and there's a good argument that the company is too late.

Analysts are expecting HP to outline its 3D printing master plan some time in the fall, but it's stunning how late the company is to the game. HP has prototypes in progress and a 3D printing pipeline of some sort, but it may want to start commercializing and marketing before it's too late.

Special Feature

3D Printing: Building the Future

3D Printing: Building the Future

When you look at the industries that 3D printing is destined to disrupt in the future, the list is long and distinguished. Here is our take on the state of 3D printing, the ways companies are using it today, and how it's going to revolutionize the future of business.

Perhaps HP plans to buy its way into 3D printing by acquiring Stratasys or another player. Perhaps HP truly does have technology that will leapfrog the industry. Perhaps HP has the scale to take its time to enter a commercial 3D market that's maturing quickly.

One thing is certain: The longer HP waits, the higher the stakes get. It's quite possible that in 3D printing a company like Stratasys or 3D Systems is the new HP. Stratasys, which has enterprise and consumer products for 3D printing, appears to be the most likely candidate to be the new HP.

Consider Stratasys, which owns MakerBot in the consumer space but derives most of its revenue from the enterprise, and has more than 50 percent market share in additive manufacturing and industrial systems. PricewaterhouseCoopers estimates that 67 percent of manufacturers are adopting additive manufacturing — the hot spot for 3D printing — in some way, with another 25 percent planning to use it.

HP needs to get going in the 3D printing market pronto. Here's what Cowen & Co. is projecting for Stratasys in the years ahead.

stratasys outlook

And Stratasys' annual sales are expected to trail 3D Systems in 2014. Analysts are expecting 3D Systems' revenue to be $713 million in 2014.

Now maybe a business approaching $1 billion a year in sales isn't enough to inspire HP, which is expected to have revenue of $110 million in fiscal 2014, but 3D printing gives the company something to talk about. HP has a hardware business under fire, a cloud transition to manage and needs growth to offset the challenges ahead.

What's particularly crazy is that HP doesn't have an innovator's dilemma about 3D printing. It's not like 3D printing will replace the ink-fueled market dominated by HP. The company has spent the last few years fixing messes left behind by its last two CEOs (Leo Apotheker, Mark Hurd), and may have been too occupied with restructuring to lead the 3D printing charge. Apotheker nuked HP's balance sheet with the acquisition of Autonomy. Hurd hit his numbers, looked like a superstar for a few years, but gutted HP's R&D spending.

Whitman has mopped up a lot of HP's messes, but the big question is whether the company has missed the 3D printing curve going forward.

ZDNet's Monday Morning Opener is our opening salvo for the week in tech. As a global site, this editorial publishes on Monday at 8am AEST in Sydney, Australia, which is 6pm Eastern Time on Sunday in the US. It is written by a member of ZDNet's global editorial board, which is comprised of our lead editors across Asia, Australia, Europe, and the US.

Previously on Monday Morning Opener

Topics: 3D Printing: Building the Future, Emerging Tech, Hewlett-Packard, Printers

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  • Innovative tech 3D

    Hewlett Packard has a tradition of designing products hardware of high quality, now it is the moment to enter in the impression market 3D and HP will make it for the big door with innovative products, designed in Barcelona, Spain for a team of multinational elite will demonstrate the kindnesses of this tech 3D.
    luis river
    • Don't you mean to say

      HP had a tradition of designing quality products?
      • HP World quality

        Where is the product quality demonstrated mainly? In enterprise servers, HP controls 25% of this world market, the customer knows what buys and HP offers it to him.
        luis river
  • june announcement

    hp later clarified that the announcement would be in October, not june
    HP clarified on March 24 that the announcement will occur by October 31 instead of in June, as originally stated by Whitman
  • No great mystery

    No great mystery. There's simply no market interest in fabricating expensive plastic junk.
    Buster Friendly
  • Getting it right is much more important than speed

    3D printing is an incredibly complex technology - HP needs to work at it till they get it right. As you say they're hardly the first to the game, so why does it matter how quickly they go to market? There's a great advantage to holding off till you're ready, and learning from others' mistakes in the meantime.
  • HP is dying - too slow, too expensive, and in constant turmoil.

    "address the enterprise market first" eh?

    So they are going to try and suck the high value customers dry first, those who will pay big money for inferior and incomplete products.

    sure HP.. I see the beancounters are working overtime...


    Sound familiar?

    HP has one HUGE advantage NONE of the newbies have -- they're Hewlett-Packard. Once they enter the market, they WILL make it work. And they WILL be around 10 years from now.

    I've seen 3d-printer kits at Microcenter selling for $349! Although most tech folks don't actually BUILD things anymore, the kit looks no more complicated than some of the Heathkits of yesteryear. Is it really worth it for HP to go anywhere near an $800 3d printer?

    The REAL target is going to be a printer that can handle BOTH plastic AND metal, even if part of each process is handled by different parts of the printer. (And in the foreseeable future outputting a single combined item simply isn't realistic.) THAT would be a whole lot more usable for businesses, including prototyping. And not just 6" cubes, but LARGE objects up to several feet on a side. THOSE printers would probably sell in the 5-25k range and would make a much better product line for a heavyweight like HP.
  • meh

    I used 3D printing long long before it became "cool".

    The tech and variety of printable materials have come a long way, but there's still a long long way to go. Yes, I am able to print complex shapes and even preassembled objects. However, because much of it isn't processed any further (especially by the DIYer at home) the strength and durability stinks. E.g., I could easily print a connecting rod, but without further peening/tempering/annealing/etc it's little more than an impressive paperweight.

    I'm also unable to print complex devices made up of many materials such that it's printed fully assembled. We are a long long long way from being able to accomplish that. Years way.

    So 3D printing for the DIYer is great for aesthetic pieces, small replacement parts that do not require great precision or strength, and simple toys today, but beyond that you'll need to wait a few more years. At least for a commercially viable, affordable solution.

    And the printers/materials....they're commodity from the start. The real money is in the designs...all those CAD drawings and 3D models. Without the designs the printers are worthless. Most consumers will not be capable of creating their own. They'll either need to purchase a design, steal it, or find one that's open sourced. I paid nearly 4 figures a decade ago to have a friend of mine create an accurate 3D model of Halibrand wheels (for a one-of-a-kind 1/18th scale Eleanor replica, for you movie buffs) which we then printed in plastic.

    If a company like HP was truly smart it'd become a repository for some of the best product designs, sell the designs (per use or unlimited) and practically give away its printers and materials.
    • Product designs won't sell.

      HP is smart. That's precisely why they won't become a repository for product designs and 3D models. They already sell their printers fairly cheap and make additional profits selling marked up materials. Why would they swap a successful business model for an unproven model with far less potential for success? Besides, tens of thousands of designs are already available for free and that number is growing at a rapid pace. Why would anyone pay for them?

      The confusion most people have about 3D printing seems to be in distinguishing between manufacturing and prototyping. For prototyping, nothing can touch 3D printing. For manufacturing, it's rare that 3D printing can be used in a cost-effective manner. Yes, the printers can be used to create small plastic replacement parts, but nobody should be duped into buying one for that sole purpose. You wouldn't buy a glue manufacturing machine just to glue a broken vase back together.
  • The potential market for 3D printing...

    ...is huge. HP is right to get it right (if that's what it's doing), rather than rushing to market.

    And HP has something no one else has -- the HP name, and reputation as a printer maker.
  • Think Bigger

    Desktop, miniature manufacturing plants that can crank out rough little trinkets is not where the 3D market needs to go. That's the hobby level of the market for people who like to tinker. Here's the real future of a vibrant, world-changing 3D printing revolution: Contour Crafting - http://www.wimp.com/printerhouse/
    • Yea, just what most people want

      Another cookie-cutter home. "Sure, we have lots of options for your new home!, would you like blue or brown?"

      Count me out please.
  • Pointless

    What's the point of this article? 3D printing is barely past the novelty phase at this point. It's a nice magic show, but it hasn't reached its potential. There's time, particularly for HP which already has industry mindshare for other products. And this isn't going to be a major cash cash cow: As another post said the printers themselves will be commodity items, and HP isn't going to be able to sell overpriced cartridges for these puppies.

    If I were a significant HP shareholder I'd be more concerned about whether they are getting their management in order, their cloud strategy, the PC and 2D printer strategy, etc. etc.

    In other words, have you rationalized the business you have and positioned them rationally for market trends? What products will you keep and which if any do you need to sell off? Have you got a solid management TEAM? Have you mended the business-critical relationships that were damaged by two arrogant and out of touch CEOs?

    Oh and by the way, looking forward to something exciting in 3D. You had better make that Fall date in a meaningful way; it makes a bad impression when you keep postponing product announcements. But I'd rather that you hit this one out of the park than get to the plate early and whiff. . .
  • Almost All Sizzle - Almost No Steak - Yet!

    Except for a few, specialized, very expensive examples (like 3D-printed prototype casting molds, which themselves are used to make OTHER, useful items), very few 3D-printed items are useful things of high value which are economical and meaningful alternatives to existing products. (The prototype casting molds or cores I discussed are economically successful today, because 3D printing from CAD models can produce them MUCH more quickly and cheaply than they can be produced from expensive conventional metal patterns. They DON'T make sense to use to produce high volumes of castings of a fixed design.)

    The vast majority of (almost exclusively) polymeric 3D-printed items created so far are essentially 21st-century parlor tricks. When 3D printing can grapple successfully with truly complex designs (e.g., with unsupported undercuts) in widely-used ENGINEERING materials at prices which don't require an Apollo-program-scale budget to purchase the printed objects, then it will be positioned to lead a TRUE manufacturing revolution. And given the state of the technology today, any October 2014 announcement by HP will have to be of earth-shaking import if it is to "move the needle" in a meaningful way.

    None of this is to say that HP shouldn't give serious consideration to fighting the good fight.