HP claims it's solved the two big problems with 3D printing

HP will disclose its 3D printing technology plans in June, Meg Whitman said

Hewlett-Packard claims to have solved the two biggest problems with today's 3D printers and will make its first big technology announcement in that area in June, according to CEO Meg Whitma.

There's a lot of "buzz and hype" around 3D printing, but the systems available now have two big challenges, Whitman said at HP's shareholder meeting. One is that they're deathly slow.

"It's like watching ice melt," she said.

The other, according to Whitman, is that the quality isn't as good as it should be. "The surface of the substrate is not perfect," she said.

"We believe we have solved both these problems and we'll be making a big technology announcement in June around how we are going to approach this," Whitman said.

That doesn't mean HP will release products at that time, but it implies the company will show what it's working on and where it's heading.

Whitman said it will target the business market first, where it thinks there's demand for systems that can be used to print prototypes and finished products.

As for consumers, HP has said it thinks their first experience with 3D printing will be from a service provider -- the equivalent of FedEx Office, where they'll be able to send print jobs for fulfillment.

There have been a lot of questions about HP's 3D printing plans, partly because printers are such a huge part of the company's business, and some people think it's in danger of being left behind. Whitman was responding to a shareholder who asked if HP was interested in growth and, if so, "How come you don't have any 3D printers available yet?"

Several companies are already selling them, including 3D Systems and Stratasys. Research firm IDC says 3D printing has moved "well beyond adopters and hobbyists," and it expects the number of 3D printers sold this year to increase 67 percent from 2013.

Whitman also touched on HP's mobile plans at the shareholder event. HP has just launched its first "phablet" in India, but it's still trying to figure out how to break into the fast-growing smartphone market.

"What we do not want to do is launch a smartphone initiative where we go lose a billion dollars. That is not what we're about at this moment," Whitman said Wednesday. "We've made so much progress in our financials that we have to find a way to capture mobility in a way that is right for HP."

James Niccolai covers data centers and general technology news for IDG News Service. Follow James on Twitter at @jniccolai. James's e-mail address is james_niccolai@idg.com

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