HP will enter 3D printing market by mid-2014

George Miller's Stratasys Dimension 3D printer prints pieces for a cube puzzle. Photo by Signe Brewster

HP plans to make its debut in the 3D printer space next year, though executives have yet to say exactly what kind of product they are planning. The Register reported that CEO Meg Whitman made the announcement at the Canalys Channels Platform in Bangkok, where she said the company will focus on speed and cost.

“We are excited about 3D printing,” Whitman said, according to The Register. “We want to lead this business. HP Labs is looking at it.”

Speed is a big challenge for the industry, as it can take an hour to produce a high-quality print the size of a quarter. Printing a useful object such as a cup takes much longer. Printer makers are experimenting with faster motors and more heads to speed up their machines, but so far there isn’t a printer that will satisfy the impatient.

Costs have also been dropping, but we don’t yet know if any of the planned low-cost printers balance quality with price. The Peachy, for example, costs just $97 on Kickstarter and will ship in July 2014. High-end consumer printers known for their relative reliability tend to sell for at least $2,000.

If HP can deliver on these two qualities with a 3D printer, it could be a winner. My colleague Barb Darrow expressed amazement in August that none of the big 2D printer players have entered the 3D printer market yet. While there are already tons of printers available on the consumer and professional sides, the industry is about to expand and create room for many more. Whitman said herself that she expects 3D printing to boom in three years.

It will be interesting to see if a 2D printer company can pull off the transition to 3D printing. Yes, they both involve nozzles and loading some kind of “ink” into the printer (and it remains to be seen if 3D printer filament, resin or yet-to-be-invented “inks” prove as lucrative as 2D printer ink). But beyond that, they are very different types of machines.

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