Innovation

HP's 3D printing invasion strategy: 7 things to know

HP announced this week it will release its 3D printer in late 2016, but an innovative new PC and 3D scanner next month. Here are 7 things to know about its strategy.

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HP's Multi Jet Fusion Printer
Image: HP

In a long-anticipated announcement, HP unveiled its new industrial 3D printer, 3D-making computer, and new 3D design software to the public this week. But don't get too excited — the actual printer isn't coming out until 2016.

Here are 7 key things we know about HP's broad 3D printing strategy:

1. 'Multi Jet Fusion'

HP claims its "Multi Jet Fusion" technology will be 10 times faster than the 3D printers on the market today, and it will also be cheaper and print with better materials. HP told the New York Times that the printer "will print 1,000 gears, each two inches across, in three hours," compared to other 3D printers' more than 80 hours. Also according to the Times article, the printer's inkjet heads can spit 350 million ink drops a second. Of course, 3D Systems, Stratasys, and other vendors won't be standing still over the next two years either.

2. Sprout, the software system

Sprout is a PC that looks similar to an iMac, but has a small digital projector, which is also a 3D digital scanner, on the top of the monitor. It projects onto a mat, which is in the place of a keyboard, creating a touch-enabled second screen. The product will be $1899 and available on Nov. 9, and some stores in the US will sell them as well. Preorders are now available on HP.com.

3. Create, the app

The software that works on Sprout is an "apperating system" called Workspace, which sits on top of Windows 8. "Create" is the app that enables the digital canvas to work, and is made for makers and hobbyists to use and riff off of designs to create new objects and products faster than they can with current systems. It has been tested by 400 people.

The apps on Create so far include:

  • StoryProducer Dreamworks Ed, where you can animate your own movie scenes with Dreamworks characters
  • Crayola Color Draw and Sing, which is a fun, educational app for kids
  • Martha Stewart CraftStudio, where you can make cards, invitations, and scrapbook pages
  • PowerDirector, where you can make your own movies

There's also a page where developers can apply for app development for Sprout.

4. The timeline

Last year, HP said it would be releasing a 3D printer by the end of the fiscal year (which would be this Friday), which obviously isn't happening. The company also recently announced it will split into two parts: Hewlett Packard Enterprise will focus on business and government software and services, while HP Inc. will focus on printing and computers. The 3D printers will be part of HP Inc.

But the 3D printer won't be available until mid-2016. The company said it was tested by kids, doctors, engineers, designers, nurses with digital cadavers, and teachers before it was announced.

5. Service bureaus

Instead of building desktop 3D printers for consumers, HP has decided to target service bureaus, where hobbyists and makers can come to print things that they need when they need them. This is a different approach than most other popular 3D printing companies like MakerBot and 3D Systems, who are trying to capitalize on home desktop printers and win over the mass market.

6. A new 3D printing process

In the announcement on Wednesday, HP said it use thermal inkjet technology. This is enabling them to print much faster than the traditional methods — fused deposition modeling (which uses plastics) and stereolithography printing (which prints metal). This new process means it prints an entire layer of a 3D object at once, making the process faster and the objects more detailed.

7. Target customers

With this printer, the target customer is large-scale industries, which means it is now a competitor to the long-standing Stratasys and 3D Systems models. But with Sprout HP is also targeting the average, non-CAD user with its software, meaning they think it is more likely that you will design your products at home and print them at service bureaus. The issue of difficult-to-use design software has arguably been the biggest problem with 3D printing thus far, so building an easier interface is important. HP said they want others to innovate on top of their products and services, so part of this is also aimed at technology parts and materials partners.

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About Lyndsey Gilpin

Lyndsey Gilpin is a former Staff Writer for TechRepublic, covering sustainability and entrepreneurship. She's co-author of the book Follow the Geeks.

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