* Market so far dominated by smaller players like Makerbot
* CEO says HP has resolved a number of technical problems
(Adds CEO's comments, details on business)
By Edwin Chan
SAN FRANCISCO, March 19 Hewlett-Packard Co
will outline plans to enter the commercial 3D-printing
market in June, saying it has solved a number of technical
problems that have hindered broader adoption of the high-tech
HP's foray is set to give added momentum to a fledgling
industry so far dominated by smaller players like Stratasys
unit Makerbot, and could help counter criticism that
the sci-fi-like technology is over-hyped and still too immature
for widespread consumer adoption.
Chief Executive Meg Whitman told shareholders on Tuesday the
company will make a "big technology announcement" in June on how
it will approach the market, saying inhouse researchers have
resolved limitations involved with the quality of substrates
used in the process, which affects the durability of finished
Another issue is the glacial speed with which objects
actually print, Whitman said.
"It's like watching ice melt. And the quality of today's 3D
printing is not as good as it should be -- the surface of the
substrate is not perfect," she told an annual shareholders
meeting. "We actually think we've solved these problems."
"The bigger market is going to be in the enterprise space,"
manufacturing parts and prototypes in ways that were not
possible before, she added.
Industry observers have long expected HP, the largest of
several printer-making companies from Canon to Xerox
, to eventually get into the business.
The nascent but fast-growing technology may represent an
interesting new area for HP, which is struggling to drum up
revenue growth amid a global decline in PC sales and a difficult
transition toward becoming more of a provider of networking,
storage and services for enterprise clients.
HP executives have estimated that worldwide sales of 3D
printers and related software and services will grow to almost
$11 billion by 2021 from a mere $2.2 billion in 2012.
MakerBot concentrates on selling more affordable devices to
consumers, while contract manufacturers like Flextronics
use the technology to help craft prototype parts or
devices for corporate clients.
"HP is currently exploring the many possibilities of 3D
printing and the company will play an important role in its
development," CTO and HP Labs director Martin Fink said in a
February blogpost on HP's website.
"The fact is that 3D printing is really still an immature
technology, but it has a magical aura. The sci-fi movie idea
that you can magically create things on command makes the idea
of 3D printing really compelling for people."
(Reporting by Edwin Chan; Editing by Andrew Hay and Edwina