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Market brands HP's 3D printing comments "worrisome"...

08 Sep 14

Martin Fink, HP’s EVP and Chief Technology Officer, was recently interviewed at the Citi 2014 Global Technology Conference.

While he spoke about a number of other topics, some of the comments about 3D printing are particularly worrisome.

I provide a link to the complete transcript below. In the meantime, here are pertinent excerpts and my reactions:

* “there is a tremendous amount of hype, especially in the area of consumer 3D print”

I agree, absolutely. See our recent Hype Cycle report on 3D printing.

* “there are a number of technology problems associated with 3D printing. One is the quality of the part. . . The second thing is the time to part. . . and resiliency of the part”

I disagree with the first point because it paints 3D printing with a broad brush. Just one example out of many — the 40,000 hip implants produced to date with Arcam’s electron beam sintering process are high quality and long-lasting and produced within ample delivery times — and they have life-altering benefits for the patients.

* “today the worldwide, and I mean worldwide, market for 3D print in the consumer space is about $30 million, best case”

If this statement literally means this year’s consumer 3D printer sales, okay. $30 million is the equivalent of only 60,000 3D printers with an average price of $500.

If considering the total addressable market worldwide — which is what sellers and investors look at, of course — then the statement is off base.

For example, if we assume that only 1% of the people who buy 2D printers will buy a 3D printer than there are 275,000 potential buyers worldwide.

* “we have some technology announcements that are coming later this fall”

In other words, and as is common with all of the digital 2D paper printer vendors, the actual printers will come later.

The complete transcript is available here.

Why do I find the comments worrisome? We must acknowledge that there is hype surrounding 3D printing, absolutely.

But in doing so we must also acknowledge the numerous practical applications of 3D printing that exist today, from aerospace to medical devices.

Downplaying the current technology and, importantly, the quality of output that is possible — and is being achieved today — does a disservice to buyers and investors.

Another example: Solidscape, a subsidiary of Stratasys, sells printers that jet materials at the equivalent of 5,000 dots per inch x 5,000 dpi x 8,000 dpi.

In the X and Y axis that is four times better than commercial 2D paper inkjet printers, including HP’s.

Sales of consumer 3D printers are already in the $30 million range, yes. And that is a very small fraction of the sales of 2D digital paper printers, yes.

But when you consider the number of consumers worldwide, or even limit yourself to the number to consumers worldwide who have the means to buy a $500 3D printer, you realize that the total addressable market is astoundingly large.

In the end, HP will target the 3D printer opportunities that align with its technology and overall strategy.

And as the company has said but which has been misunderstood by many people, HP will make technology announcements this fall only to make its 3D printers available later.

By Pete Basiliere - Analyst, Gartner

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