During Hewlett-Packard's (NYSE:HPQ) earnings conference call last night, the tech giant squelched hopes that it will be making an acquisition in the 3-D printing space. Instead, the company plans to enter the 3-D printing market organically. Perhaps the richly valued 3-D printing sector has made CEO Meg Whitman a little gun-shy.
Whitman told investors that the company will be focusing on "the value proposition segment," regardless of whether it's the consumer or industrial segment. In other words, HP wants to differentiate itself from the 3-D printing crowd in some way. Last month, when Whitman initially announced its intention to enter the 3-D printing space by mid-2014, it revealed that greater affordability and speed will be its core focus.
Speed is certainly an area where 3-D printing could be vastly improved in order for it to compete more directly with conventional manufacturing. As it currently stands, 3-D printing is slow as molasses because it successively builds an object layer by layer, and it could take several thousand layers of repetition before a job is complete. If HP can improve the pace of repetition significantly, its affordably positioned printers could conceivably sell like hotcakes.
While this is all great in theory, you have to remember that the 3-D printing industry doesn't exist inside a vacuum; speed and affordability are among top priorities for the entire 3-D printing industry. It might not be so easy for HP to simply differentiate itself here.
Just last week, Google's Motorola announced a partnership with 3D Systems (NYSE:DDD) on Project Ara, a modular smartphone component concept where users can tailor devices to their individual needs. Motorola has tasked 3D Systems with creating a "factory from the future," based on 3-D printing technology. When all is said and done, the platform will be able to handle production level speed and volume, as well as be able to integrate a range of materials, including conductive materials. To put it lightly, HP is going against a competitor that has a serious vision about the future of 3-D printing and the role it plays in manufacturing. If successful, 3D System could become poised to revolutionize the entire manufacturing sector.
An uphill battle
While HP may be a behemoth with effectively unlimited resources, it doesn't necessarily guarantee it will be successful entering the 3-D printing market. This is especially true after considering that it's going against 3D Systems, which not only invented the 3-D printer, but also has ambitions to revolutionize the industry it created with its factory from the future. At the end of the day, HP has its work cut out, especially if it's serious about delivering homegrown 3-D printing solutions that are well received.