As the HP 3D Printing Division made abundantly clear during the visit at its Barcelona Labs, the first target of its strategy for the new HP Multi Jet 3D printer range (4200 and 3200) will be Selective Laser Sintering 3D adopters.
The final target, however, is to challenge industry leading Objet’s technological leadership. Stratasys and Objet merged and the new company is now Stratasys. However, purely in terms of technology, Objet’s Connex3 Polyjet is the most advanced currently on the market. That’s simply because it is the only one, today, which is able to do multi-material and multicolor by digitally controlling the material at a voxel level.
If HP’s materials scientists will have their way, soon that will no longer be the case. With the not-so-subtle difference that HP’s MJF will be able to do voxel-level digital material control starting with solid powder thermoplastics, instead of liquid photopolymer resins.
5 Years, that’s all we’ve got
That said, Stratasys (Objet) has been developing its polyjet technology for around two decades, while HP has been working on its MJF for only about five. HP R&D capabilities are enormous and derive directly from its ability to dominate industrial digital 2D printing. This is the key to everything: digitally controlling billions of different picoliter size droplets every second via thermal inkjet printheads.
HP’s dominance of this market, with over 70% share, derives directly from two companies it acquired: Indigo and Scitex. Guess who was the CEO of Scitex when HP bought it? David Reis. The same David Reis who is now at the helm in Stratasys (after having been the CEO of Objet). Just over a decade ago, the Scitex founders gave up industrial digital 2D printing to HP, which turned it from a $100 million to a $100 billion business; and moved on to the third dimension.
One of those amazing coincidences wanted that, on November 1st 2014, the day after HP announced its 3D printing ambitions to the world, I was sitting across the table from David Reis himself, for a one-to-one interview. We were at a Stratasys event at the Normal Store, in lower Manhattan,
Many things emerged from that conversation. Two stuck in my head above all others. One is that he had already sold HP a company. And the other is that he, as Stratasys, had full control of polyjet material prices.
Lets consider the first. I have heard different versions about Scitex’s sale to HP. Some said it was sold high, some said it was sold low. It does not really matter. What matters is that HP was not able to drive its competitor out of the market; it was, however, able to buy it. Now that company, Scitex, is at the heart of a multibillion-dollar 2D digital printing empire, while its founders went and invented polyjet.
Is it just another dimension?
How will this translate into the 3D printing world? Stephen Nigro, the man who built HP’s 2D empire, now President 3D Printing HP, said during the event that market dynamics for 3D will not be so different from industrial grade digital 2D printing. Other than the fact that 3D printing is now minuscule and could potentially become the largest business area that HP has ever entered (Global Manufacturing), he is probably right.
Does this mean that the same will happen in the fight with its competitors? Seeing HP’s MJF technology up close certainly made it seem like there’s no game. HP is simply too organized and too powerful for any competitor. Its technology is amazing. It is easily ten times as fast as SLS and can do voxel level control of materials for end-use functional parts.
On the other hand, while it has already achieved it in its labs, MJF cannot yet offer multi material and multicolor capabilities. There is no date set for these upgrades but the company was very convincing about its ability to alter a voxel’s properties during the thermal fusion process by adding a liquid agent. The fact remains that Stratasys can already do this. In fact, it can do a lot more than this: it can do 6+1 materials (plus multicolor and multidensity) in a single print.
It follows that if Stratasys lowered (say by 50%), the cost of its materials, it would be able to compete with HP in certain segments, especially the ones that HP cannot yet reach.
So hold on to those Stratasys stocks: HP’s market entrance could prove beneficial to the 3D printing industry as a whole and even to Stratasys itself, which, in the end, would be able to deliver those solutions that HP, at this point in time, is only promising.
HP 3D printing going for mass
A related battle for mass 3D printing could be fought in the field of 3D printing with embedded electronics. That could be relatively easy for HP to implement (all their 3D printers need to do is jet the conductive metal during the print, at least that’s the basic idea). However, according to market sources, Stratasys has already been experimenting with nanoparticle conductive inks, as has another company with many former Objet employees: Nano Dimension. This, however, is another of those segments where “competition” is a relative term, since it does not yet exist.
As explained by Edward Schubert, Director EMEA GSB Business Operations, at HP 3D Printing they feel that “having developed the technology internally is a definitive advantage in terms of building a global business”. That is probably true if MJF delivers in all those areas that it has been promising it will. One thing is for sure, from its very market launch in late 2016, MJF will be able to beat SLS in several segments with 10X speed, lower entry costs, lower materials prices and fully fused, smoother, more precise, stronger parts.
In an industry that is now worth $5 bln and could potentially grow to $200 bln over the next 15 years, most of the plastic SLS manufacturers should be able to fall on their feet. First of all they will still have size advantage for some time. Second, all three major companies have been differentiating their offer. EOS is pushing its metal 3D printer line up; Prodways has production grade MOVINGLIght DLP and high performance ceramics 3D printing capabilities. 3D Systems has large SLA and multilamaterial MJP, along with Phenix’s SLM for metals.
Shooting for the trillions
In fact HP’s huge investments in this sector will be probably prove beneficial to all of its competitors, or at least the ones that will understand how to best reposition their offer in order to compete effectively. As Ramon Pastor, Vice President and General Manager HP 3D Printing, told me, the company is not interested in gaining market share in a $5 bln dollar 3D printing industry as much as it wants 3D printing as a whole to gain market share in the $12 trillion manufacturing industry. Since HP’s current market share of the industrial manufacturing industry equals to 0, that seems like a win-win situation.
The one big question that remains is if HP will ever be able – or actually how long it will take the company – to enter the field of metal 3D printing. Once again its road is inextricably linked with Stratasys’ (or Objet) and in this case with former Objet co-founder, now XJet co-founder and CEO, Hanan Gothait. His is the first inkjet nanoparticle metal 3D printing technology and today represents the clearest path to voxel-level multi-metal control. I’m pretty sure that the infinte roads of 3D printing innovation will cross again.