The company is developing 3D printers for business users andsays it solved problems related to the quality of substrates
HP CEO Meg Whitman has confirmed the company is working on commercial 3D printers and will outline its product strategy by the summer, hinting the new technology will be aimed at the enterprise, not the consumer market.
3D printing is on the verge of entering the mainstream and IDC predicts that by 2017, unit shipments will grow tenfold, and worldwide hardware value will more than double in the short term.
UPDATE: HP contacted TechWeek to clarify some of the statements made by Whitman. The company will be entering the 3D printing market a few months later than expected, with a comprehensive strategy likely to be announced in autumn.
Despite a decline in sales, printers remain an important business for HP, and Whitman previously described these devices as the “lifeblood” of the vendor. The company introduced its first inkjet and laser printers in 1984, and its best-selling products still include the LaserJet line. Taking this into account, the industry observers have long expected HP to announce it was entering the 3D printing market.
3D printing technology had matured a decade ago, but the ability to create real-life objects from digital models was too expensive, reserved for serious design and prototyping purposes. In contrast, today, 3D printing is already being used to make anything from medical devices to fashion accessories, guns and personalised sex toys.
Whitman said HP has managed to solve a number of technical issues that were preventing the technology from wider adoption, including the limitations related to the quality of plastic substrates, reports Reuters.
“We want to make good quality, high accuracy parts,” said Martin Fink, CTO and director at HP Labs in February. “Today, you can get a really good inkjet printer capable of producing beautiful prints for very little money, in just a few seconds. The average consumer would be disappointed in the results from a similarly-priced 3D printer. The quality just isn’t there and it takes hours and hours to produce even simple parts.”
Fink suggested that consumers would rather use professional 3D services offered by a third party, and HP would manufacture the equipment to enable such services.
According to IDC, 3D printing market presents an “incredible opportunity” as it gets embraced by a number of industries for the time and cost benefits that the technology can offer.
“In addition to general manufacturing/R&D applications, 3D print is also finding sweet spots in aerospace, automotive, education, dental, jewellery, medical and recreation vertical markets,” said the report published in December 2013.
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