Hewlett-Packard has been threatening, I mean hinting, that they were going to be jumping into the commercial 3D printing market in a big way for well over a year now, but they aren’t hinting anymore. Last month Hewlett-Packard CEO Meg Whitman announced that they would be officially splitting the company into two separate businesses n November 1st. Hewlett-Packard Enterprise would focus entirely on their server, data center technology and business consulting while HP Inc. would try to turn the rapidly declining printer and personal computer portion of the business around. Whitman would continue to run Hewlett-Packard Enterprise while Dion Weisler would remain in charge of the side of HP that he was already running as HP Inc.’s new CEO.
When the split was first announced there was plenty of speculation that HP Inc. would be betting a lot of chips on their emerging 3D printer business taking off. It has been no secret that in the face of both a dwindling personal computer market and stagnating printer sales the printer and PC division has been dragging down the more lucrative server side of HP for years. The official company line is that by splitting up the company it gives them each a clearer focus and will increase the speed of decision-making, making the companies more nimble. In reality the PC market is not going to start growing again, and after years of quality decline, HP printers have seen their product reputation in tatters. Frankly, it is going to take a lot of time to turn that around and by spinning the PC and printer division off, it won’t continue to drag down the rest of the company.
However, the impending 2016 release of their first commercial, full color multi-jet fusion 3D printer is a potential bright spot in the split. And as part of a smaller company, the 3D printing division will receive considerably more attention from executives and presents an entirely new, relatively untapped market to leap into. Weisler clearly agrees that 3D printing offers the new company a valuable opportunity, as one of his first acts as HP Inc’s new CEO was to define the 3D printing division from the rest of the printing business and appoint the current senior VP of imaging and printing Steve Nigro to head up a new 3D Printing business group.
“When we announced our plans to separate, we knew that 3D printing would be a key area of innovation and growth for HP Inc. Our company is positioned perfectly to take advantage of our sophisticated intellectual property and know-how to transform industries and power the next industrial revolution. As our first 3D printing product nears commercial availability, I’m creating a new 3D Printing business group and center of excellence. Given the importance we’re placing on this business, we needed the right leadership, focus and organizational structure to drive this organization,” Weisler said in a recent HP internal memo.
Many of the industries largest 3D printer manufacturers have downplayed the importance of HP’s intentions to get into the 3D printer business, but I can’t imagine that to be anything but bluster and face-saving PR. Say what you will about HP, but they are storming the gates with a massive, worldwide manufacturing, maintenance and distribution network that no other 3D printer manufacturer can come close to matching. Add to that the fact that they are, wisely, going directly after the industrial and small business market while skipping the desktop and hobby market completely, for now at least. While Stratasys and 3D Systems are both huge presences in the industry, they are not universally known brand names, and new businesses looking to expand into offering 3D printing services are just as likely to stick with a known entity as not. Especially if HP bundles 3D printer maintenance with existing 2D printer contracts and service agreements.
“I have asked Stephen Nigro to turn his entire focus to 3D Printing, continuing to report to me. He will focus on establishing a leadership position for HP Inc., in both the prototyping and production 3D market by delivering a strong portfolio of technology, products, and services to drive the market,” Weisler continued.
I don’t know about you, but to me that sounds a lot less like an announcement and a lot more like a threat. Any company would be foolish to not be worried about a company as large as HP coming into their industry, especially a pair of them often accused of stagnation and lack of innovation. But it’s not all doom and gloom. A massive company like HP putting this many resources behind 3D printing is only going to raise the profile of the technology, and bring in new industries looking to work it into their business model. Of course HP still has to deliver a quality 3D printer, but from what information is available they just may have done it.
Let us know what you think of the HP split and their new full color multi-jet fusion 3D printer over on our Get Ready 3D Printing, Here Comes HP forum at 3DPB.com.