3D printing could become faster, cheaper and more efficient with Hewlett-Packard entering the market.
Though it shied away from announcing specific product plans, HP this week shed light on its work in 3D printing technology. The company, with its rich history in the market, will most likely spark growth in 3D printing, a 20-year-old industry marred by technical and support issues.
At an event Wednesday in New York, HP said it expects its first 3D printer to arrive in 2016. The company said its technology will spur competition and speed up the pace of development in the field, reducing costs and leading to faster 3D printer operation.
HP's 3D printers will be targeted at enterprises, much like the company's large-format printers, which are used to make billboards and posters. Unlike the current crop of HP printers, however, the upcoming 3D products are being designed to produce a wide range of functional objects and industrial components.
Analysts who have seen HP's 3D printing technology in action agree that it will force competitors to offer better products and services. Many current machines are made using years-old technology.
"I've seen laboratory prototypes. It will be disruptive, because it has potential for high-quality parts production, and very fast," said Pete Basiliere, research director in Gartner's technology and service provider division.
HP could also legitimize and spark growth in the 3D printing industry, and more competition is good for prices and the quality of products, said Terry Wohlers, president and principal consultant at Wohlers Associates.
"It is the first time for a very big corporation to endorse the 3D printing area. It speaks to the future of the industry," Wohlers said.
For desktop 3D printing company MakerBot, competition will be good, and more entrants in the 3D printing market indicates the company is on to something big. MakerBot brought 3D printing into the public spotlight when it was formed in 2009.
"The fact that traditional companies like HP see 3D printing as a growing opportunity is very exciting to us," said Jenny Lawton, acting CEO of MakerBot.
3D printers have been used to make consumer products like toys, smartphone cases, jewelry, medical devices, guns, toothbrushes, helmets and robots. Consumer 3D printing bears some resemblance to the copier market, with people going to a store for bigger projects rather than doing in-home printing with expensive devices. Staples is offering 3D printing services at some stores and UPS has launched a similar service in some U.S. markets.
3D printers have also been used in industry, to make a variety of equipment including aircraft, automobile, spacecraft and satellite parts. HP says as its technology speeds up and reduces the cost of production, it will help 3D printers supplant conventional machines to make parts and equipment.
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