by Jim Lyons | 11/25/14
I spent the end of October and the beginning of November away. I was off on a long-planned, once-postponed vacation/exploration, going to places I had never been before, seeing some sights I had always wanted to see, and doing it all with a group of family members with whom I had never before traveled for any length of time. And it was great. But as might be predicted, I did miss a few things!
Off the Grid
The big miss (for me) was not being among the connected for the HP 3D Printing announcement on October 29. After much anticipation, HP unveiled its homegrown Multi Jet Fusion technology. (If you missed it, read the news release and two excellent backgrounders by HP).
That anticipation came partly from the seemingly “natural” fit for HP in the burgeoning 3D printing world. With much of printing and imaging flagging, growth-wise, 3D printing has been a poster child for an exciting new (but related) industry of the future. And starting with the “printing” in its name implying rampant opportunity for print-industry leader HP, and further reinforced by the firm’s treasure trove of intellectual property in the inkjet arena, a technology fundamentally, shared between conventional printing and the creation of three-dimensional objects.
Highlighting this assumed fit, friends and colleagues have often asked me “what’s up?” with HP in this exciting new space. And the eagerness was heightened by CEO Meg Whitman’s repeated commitment to announcing a product by the end of 2014, during her communications over the last several years (HP’s fiscal 2014 ended October 30.)
Tracing Whitman's statements and commitments
And as a blogger/analyst in the printing and imaging industry, I had not escaped having to offer a word or two on the likelihood of 3D printing offering hope for a beleaguered industry. For example, from an interview early this year with Signazon, where I was asked about the 3D printing opportunity as a short-term panacea for industry incumbents, and I pointed to a cautionary example:
As a viable, new business opportunity for the industry, I don’t see it as the next big idea because of the long term research and development needed. It reminds me of HP’s entry into commercial printing and graphics art – though it seemed like a no-brainer to some, the overlap was much smaller than one might imagine. It came out well eventually, but it took much more work and more time than we originally imagined.
Lesson of the Watched Pot
With all this anticipation built up over HP’s entry into the 3D printing industry including growth potential for them as well as competitive impact on others (current market leaders 3D Systems and Stratasys saw their share prices tumble on the 29th, for example), it somehow seemed fitting that the official announcement finally happened while I was away, as I’ve learned this “watched pot” lesson before. Going back almost precisely 20 years, while I was in the midst of my two-and-a-half decades of employment with HP, I exited a "normal" product/program management job for the first time in a long time, and over the next months and years noticed how those development projects I’d previously helped shepherd along seemed to zip right ahead without my daily attention. (My original entry level position with HP had been as more of a "staffer," later finding satisfaction and success in a string of "line" jobs over the next dozen years.)
Takes on HP’s Announcement
And in addition to those stock traders who found the portent of industry disruption in the HP news, what did others take from the reality of the company finally entering the 3D printing business, albeit with products still to come in future years? From Re/code, Arik Hesseldahl, whose work I admire, puts together his case for HP’s commercial prospects for its 3D printing future in this piece.
Others like The Guardian had a bit of fun with it. And while I had blogged about HP’s potential in the business as long as five years ago, for now I was content to bring out an interesting naming “coincidence,” at least according to my HP sources. The software portion of HP’s announced solution is Sprout - the same codename given to the original LaserJet while in development, and whose 30th anniversary we are celebrating this year. This 30 years of printing success is a legacy cited in the case for “why HP” in the company’s 3D printing materials linked to above.
Happy 30th, original Laserjet
I borrowed from the title of the first chapter of Thomas Friedman’s 2005 book "The World is Flat (While I Was Sleeping)" in naming this post, rather than going with something like “HP 3D Printing Launches - Will Market Success Follow?” In recapping my monthly "Observations" some time back, I realized with some consternation that a large portion of my posts were titled, a la the famous TV game show "Jeopardy," in the “form of a question." I worried - should a column entitled "Observations" be making statements, or offering queries? (And see, there I go again with the question mark!) And as far as the recapping process, I should note this is the post completes nine years of monthly "columns" - with my first one appearing in The Hard Copy Observer in December 2005, linked to that aforementioned departure from HP. So it's thanks to my readers, editors, and publishers alike, and on to Year Ten!
Jim Lyons has been writing, analyzing and blogging about industry developments since 2006. In his monthly Observations column he comments on business and marketing developments in the printing and imaging industry, combining many years of experience with an ever-enthusiastic eye on the future. In the Jim Lyons Observations column on The Imaging Channel, highlights from that blog appear monthly. Lyons is also a faculty member at the University of Phoenix, teaching marketing and economics at its school of business, and is a regular contributor to both The Imaging Channel and Workflow. Follow him on Twitter @jflyons and read more of Jim Lyons Observations at http://www.jimlyonsobservations.com/.