Hewlett-Packard (NYSE:HPQ) is officially getting into the 3-D printing business. CEO Meg Whitman recently told the Canalys Channels Forum in Bangkok that the company will be entering the market by mid-2014. Here's looking at you, Stratasys (NASDAQ:SSYS) and 3D Systems (NYSE:DDD).
Ultimately, HP wants to become a leader in the space and plans on targeting 3-D printing service providers, which provide professional 3-D printing services to its customers. By targeting professional users, it suggests that its 3-D printers won't likely be affordable for at-home use.
A scary thought... at first
Undoubtedly, this development could threaten both Stratasys and 3D Systems because HP can invest significantly more resources into developing cutting-edge 3-D printers. The other big area of concern is HP's massive global sales distribution channel, which has far wider reach than 3D Systems and Stratasys could ever imagine. Clearly, HP has the potential to shake up the two industry leaders, but whether or not it can deliver on this promise is another story.
Before jumping to conclusions that this is inherently bad for 3D Systems and Stratasys, investors should keep in mind that HP is going up against competitors with loads of industry experience, which also offer a compelling portfolio of products and patents. The question investors should be thinking about is how HP will differentiate itself against these two well-established leaders.
The need for speed
One of the areas where 3-D printing could be vastly improved is speed. Whitman pointed this out during the forum, saying how a bottle can take as long as eight to 10 hours to be printed, which is "like watching ice melt." Coupled with the fact that HP wants to be a low-cost provider, the company could differentiate itself in the marketplace by offering a faster and cheaper 3-D printer than the competition.
Of course, it wouldn't be out of the question for Stratasys or 3D Systems to see HP's intentions and try to beat it to the punch. Although this could be viewed as a win for the industry a whole, it may not be the case for the respective businesses' profitability, which may face pricing pressures against a competitor like HP. Either way, 3-D printing professionals should look forward to faster printers with lower price tags in the years ahead.
Staying the course
Considering HP's massive size relative to the entire 3-D printing industry, the investing thesis in HP remains the same. Even if HP commanded 100% of the less than $3 billion a year 3-D printing industry, it wouldn't be enough to move the needle for a company expected to bring in over $111 billion in revenue this year.
At the end of the day, HPs announcement validates the viability of 3-D printing, which is a good thing if you're already a 3-D printing investor; the company wouldn't spend money or human capital to get up to speed if it thought the industry didn't have staying power. For the time being, I'll be keeping my eye on HP because they're a formidable competitor, but I will also continue holding onto my 3-D printing investments for the foreseeable future.
Fool contributor Steve Heller owns shares of 3D Systems. The Motley Fool recommends 3D Systems and Stratasys. The Motley Fool owns shares of 3D Systems and Stratasys and has the following options: short January 2014 $36 calls on 3D Systems and short January 2014 $20 puts on 3D Systems. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.