Mar 23, 2016 | By Kira

HP’s success as one of the world’s leading inkjet printer companies is often attributed—both by supporters and critics—to its well known ‘tie-in’ business model (also known as the ‘bait and switch’, depending on who you ask). That is, sell the printer itself at a low-low price, but make the customer come back for high-priced inks. In fact, HP has become so well known for this practice, it’s even used as a textbook example. Yet with its forth-coming and much-hyped Multi Jet Fusion 3D printer, which is expected to launch this Fall, HP Inc. has promised to go take a completely different route: an open platform business model, where customers would not only be able to use third-party materials, but they would be encouraged to experiment, develop, and come up with 'disruptive' materials of their own.

In a recent interview with Shane Wall, the HP CTO re-affirmed the company’s vision to not only enter the 3D printing market, but to usher in a full-on era of ‘disruption’. The question is, will that disruption apply to the entire industry, or merely to HP’s own outdated scheme?

Wall’s confident rhetoric mirrored CEO Dion Weisler’s statements from just a few weeks ago: “We really believe with this technology that we have something incredibly disruptive…that will fundamentally change the industry,” he said.

To recap, with its Multi Jet Fusion 3D printing technology, HP has promised a top-of-the-line industrial 3D printer capable of reaching speeds at least 10 times faster than current SLS technologies, while producing 3D printed parts with superior mechanical properties, voxel-level precision, and excellent multicolour surfaces. It will also be sold at 20 percent the cost of existing industrial machines.

Targeting the commercial rather than consumer market (“we never saw value there,” to quote Weisler), the HP Multi Jet Fusion 3D printer may be coming a little late to the game, but by addressing and far surpassing current limitations regarding speed, price, and part quality, it expects to come out with [Thermal Inkjet] guns blazing.

Yet there is a fourth limitation that HP also wants to overcome: the 3D printing industry’s “closed nature.” It has thus partnered with Autodesk’s Spark open 3D printing platform and has plans to include a Windows 10 integration for added cross-platform customer experience.

“We’ll still have print supplies but our model will be different,” explained Wall. “We will open up the platform so people can have other supplies that come in.” Rather than retaining full control over its materials, as it does with 2D ink cartridges, once the Multi Jet Fusion 3D printer is released, HP will actually give other 3D printing material suppliers access to create compatible materials on their own—and not just any materials, but the ‘disruptive’ kind, of course:

“They’ll have access to our APIs through an SK that allows them to programme to the printer itself, and we’ll allow people to come in and do very disruptive new materials that they wouldn’t have been able to do before. [This is] very different from HP and very game changing.”

This is indeed game changing, yet as Chris Connery, VP of Global Research Analysis at CONTEXT, sees it, it is a necessary and empowering move for HP and for the 3D printing industry more generally:

“Anything the 3D printer market can do to move away from the razor/razor blade model of 2D printing can indeed benefit adoption. Across the board, all agree that materials and materials science will play a large role in the future of additive manufacturing and if printer vendors give material scientists the ability to work their magic, this indeed opens the door for engineers to find new ways to leverage this technology.”

HP CTO and Director of HP Labs, Shane Wall

The first model of HP’s Multi Jet Fusion 3D printer will be released in Fall 2016, however it will only be available as a single-color machine capable of processing thermoplastic-based 3D printing materials for small-to-medium businesses. In future, and thanks to its open platform model, HP has promised that many other materials, including metal, will available for subsequent machines, making them applicable to the retail, automotive, and eventually medical industries as well.

Moving away from the ‘cheap printer, pricey ink’ model it has relied on for decades surely can’t be easy for HP, but as customers have become wary, if not entirely fed-up with it, open platform seems to be the way to go. At the same time, and even more importantly, an open platform will open the door for new, innovative, and yes, even ‘disruptive’, materials to enter the market. Even if this proves to be less profitable for HP specifically, it could be a promising and important step for the industry at large.



Posted in 3D Printer Company



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Matt wrote at 3/25/2016 9:28:55 PM:

If this printer were being developed under the pre Carly Fiorina era I would be excited at getting my hands on an HP 3D printer; but HP printers have been nothing but junk since Carly and her successors took over. I'll let others be HP's beta testing guinea pigs.

Ben wrote at 3/24/2016 6:11:57 PM:

I think HP is dumb for not trying to sell a consumer model. They are big enough to create a successful 3d model store that links to the printer and gets a cut from every model sold. Other sites are trying but HP could excel where others are not. They could still sell the printers at a loss to get market adoption and then recoup the cost on their model store. Especially with their move to not lock you into using their media.

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