by Robert Palmer | 10/30/14
On October 29, HP announced its foray into the world of 3D printing with the unveiling of its new Blended Reality ecosystem, which it says will bridge the gap between the physical and digital worlds and help overcome barriers to more widespread adoption of 3D printing. There are two key components to HP’s Blended Reality ecosystem: Multi Jet Fusion 3D printing technology and a computing platform called Sprout by HP. Working in concert, HP believes its new system can open up new market opportunities and revolutionize goods and parts production utilizing 3D printing technology.
Multi Jet Fusion technology is based on HP’s Thermal Inkjet printing technology and features a unique system architecture that HP claims will produce higher quality at speeds up to 10 times faster than rival 3D printing methods. The improvements in speed can be attributed to the machine’s ability to image the entire surface at once versus one single point at a time.
HP is also leveraging its expertise in thermal inkjet technology to produce arrays that can simultaneously apply multiple liquid agents, helping to produce greater accuracy, resiliency, and uniform part strength in all three axis directions. At the same time, HP claims that its Multi Jet Fusion technology will deliver significant improvements to the overall economics of 3D printing by integrating various steps of the 3D print process to reduce run times, costs, energy consumption, and waste. HP says that its first 3D printers are not expected to be available until 2016 and pricing has not been disclosed.
Sprout by HP is a new immersive dual-screen computing platform that is comprised of a Windows desktop PC, a terabyte of storage, and a HD touch screen coupled with a 20 point capacitive touch mat. A device called the Sprout Illuminator, consists of a projection system that allows users to scan and capture objects in 3D. By combining a scanner, depth sensor, hi-resolution camera and projector into a single device, HP says that Sprout will allow users to take physical items and seamlessly merge them into a digital workspace.
HP’s announcement follows on the heels of its decision to split its enterprise services business from its PC and printer operations. Not surprisingly, the new Blended Reality products and technologies will reside within HP Inc., which is the new organization responsible for HP’s printing and personal systems business. Dion Weisler, executive vice president, Printing & Personal Systems, believes that HP’s Blended Reality technologies will reduce the barriers between the digital and physical worlds. “We are on the cusp of a transformative era in computing and printing,” he said.
There has been much speculation as to why HP, the undisputed leader in the printing market, has waited so long to enter the 3D printing space. It is a question that has come up repeatedly over the past couple years during HP events and quarterly earnings calls. CEO Meg Whitman has consistently responded by noting that HP would eventually enter the 3D space, but it would only do so with disruptive technologies that would address the major obstacles for broader application: speed and quality. At HP’s 2014 Industry Analyst Summit earlier this year, Whitman argued that watching a 3D printer in action today is like “watching ice melt.”
It will take time before we can evaluate all of its capabilities, but If HP can deliver on the promise of Multi Jet Fusion technology it could certainly be a game changer in the 3D printing market. One of the more intriguing aspects to this announcement is that HP is attacking the 3D space with homegrown technology, further leveraging its massive investment in thermal inkjet. Once again, HP is demonstrating the broad reach and disruptive nature of inkjet technology by leveraging it across a growing range of product segments—a trait that certainly bodes well for the firm when it comes to economies of scale and driving profitability in ultra competitive markets.
In some ways, it is interesting that HP has announced the technology so far ahead of product availability. On the other hand, the firm was no doubt anxious to address consistent concerns over its lack of visibility in the 3D printing space. At the same time, it will be important for HP to establish some level of excitement and build momentum for the new technology as it is geared up for real world deployment. HP’s activity in 3D printing is an area that we will continue to monitor closely.
Robert Palmer is chief analyst and a managing partner for BPO Media, which publishes The Imaging Channel and Workflow magazines. He is an independent market analyst and industry consultant with more than 25 years experience in the printing industry covering technology and business sectors for prominent market research firms such as Lyra Research and InfoTrends. In December 2012 he formed Palmer Consulting as an independent consultancy focused on transformation, mobility, MPS, and the entire imaging market. Palmer is a popular speaker and presents regularly at industry conferences and trade events in the U.S., Europe, and Japan. He is also active in a variety of imaging industry forums and currently serves on the board of directors for the Managed Print Services Association (MPSA).