Carbon3D's 3D printing technology highlights risk to HP strategy

A startup cooks up a new 3D printing method that's akin to the effects in Terminator 2. Toss in existing 3D printing players and HP's second half of 2016 launch into the market looks riskier.

Carbon3D is claiming to have a new method for 3D printing that can print 25 to 100 times faster than current technologies and advance the era of on-the-fly manufacturing.

That Carbon3D news, launched at the TED conference on Monday along with $40 million in venture funding, is notable enough. But if you zoom out a bit Carbon3D also highlights the big risk in Hewlett-Packard's 3D printing strategy, which kicks off commercial products in the second half of 2016.

Can a giant dominant in one printing market really take its time entering a 3D market that'll be huge. First, there are plenty of established players---Stratasys and 3D Systems are two big ones---and the technology can change quickly. HP is promising breakthrough advances, but it's not a stretch to see another technology emerge.

Enter Carbon3D. The company is touting new Continuous Liquid Interface Production technology (CLIP). CLIP uses light and oxygen to grow objects from a pool of resin. As noted in a few other reports, Carbon3D's approach is akin to the effects in Terminator 2.

carbon3dclip.jpg

For Carbon3D the aim is to print from a pool instead of layer by layer and make manufacturing more feasible. 3D printing---largely an enterprise affair today---is used for prototyping but the real win is manufacturing goods. Carbon3D is promising a broad range of materials and commercial quality.

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The catch is that Carbon3D hasn't commercialized its technology.

But there's enough in Carbon3D's approach to ponder. Consider:

  • Today, 3D printing is basically 2D printing over and over again.
  • Speed has to improve.
  • "At the heart of the CLIP process is a special window that is transparent to light and permeable to oxygen, much like a contact lens."

In other words, Carbon3D's approach is worth noting.

How will this turn out? Carbon3D is likely to be an acquisition target for the existing 3D giants, which have largely been built through mergers. The broader lesson here will be what matters more in technology---breakthrough development or scale and a commercial channel. If the former is critical, HP needs to get its products to market. If the channel ultimately wins---Oracle's software acquisition spree is instructive here---perhaps HP has some time.

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