What is HP Doing In 3D Printing? An Inverview with Martin Fink

(From HP Next blog) We’ve all seen futuristic movies where replicators make anything on command. But you might have also seen the real-life video of an amputee duck being fitted with a 3D-printed prosthetic foot. So, the question becomes, what is the line between sci-fi and reality?

Industry Analyst firm Gartner, in their 2013 Hype Cycle for Imaging and Print Services, consider consumer 3D printing at the ‘Peak of Inflated Expectations’ and expect that enterprise 3D printing will become mainstream within the next two to five years. They indicate consumer 3D printing, retail 3D printing, 3D bio-printing and additive manufacturing will become mainstream within the next five to 10 years.

With HP’s legacy of innovation in technology and printing, it seems everyone wants to know when HP is going to bring a 3D printer to market. We’ve enlisted the help of Martin Fink, CTO and director of HP Labs, to answer some of the most commonly asked questions we get about HP and 3D printing.

HP Next Team (HN): Why are people so interested in knowing what HP is doing with 3D printing?

Martin Fink (MF): The fact is that 3D printing is really still an immature technology, but it has a magical aura. The sci-fi movie idea that you can magically create things on command makes the idea of 3D printing really compelling for people.

HN: Is HP really getting into this market or is that just a rumor?

MF: Yes – HP is currently exploring the many possibilities of 3D printing and the company will play an important role in its development.

HN: Why do you think it’s a viable opportunity for HP?

MF: For one thing, the market size: The 3D printing market has shown an annual growth rate of +27% over the last three years. Worldwide sales of 3D printers and associated materials, software and services in 2012 was $2.2B and is expected to reach $10.8B by 2021.1 There is huge opportunity for 3D printing across a wide array of industries.

HN: An article in Wired magazine said there was a 3D printer prototype in HP Labs? Is that true?

MF: Yes, along with many other exciting technology innovations and breakthroughs HP is working on.

HN: Is HP late to this market?

MF: Critics might say so, but that could be because they’re making the mistake of equating the opportunity in 3D printing to other consumer technology or printing breakthroughs. We want to make good quality, high accuracy parts. 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.

HN: What will the consumer 3D printing experience look like?

MF: Instead of having a machine at home, we think consumers will first use print service providers — companies similar to FedEx Office — where people will send their 3D print jobs for high-quality fulfillment, and we’d be the ones to provide the equipment.

HN: Last but not least, just because everyone is asking, when is HP going to have its own 3D printer?

MF: I’m glad they’re interested, but even for an HP reporter, I can’t comment about future products!

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