Hewlett-Packard announced it will enter the 3-D printing market in 2016 with Sprout, a combination 3-D printer and computerized design interface that incorporates a dual computer screen and touch mat setup, and a four-camera overhead array used for taking 3-D scans.
The printer component runs Inkjet printing technology that images entire surface areas instead of building objects line by line. HP says this will allow for functional 3-D printing speeds that are 10 times faster than technology currently on the market. It employs a proprietary multi-agent printing process that blends liquid plastics at the point of contact, which is said to be more accurate than current methods used for 3-D printing, and provide a stronger, more resilient finished product.
The user-facing end of Sprout integrates a 23-inch vertical LCD HD touch screen coupled with a 20-point capacitive touch mat with software (called HP Workspace) that runs on Windows® 8.1. It is designed to accommodate real-time remote collaboration. Internally it houses a 4th generation Intel i7 processor and 1 TB of storage. A NVIDIA GeForce GT 745 powers the graphics.
The camera array (called Sprout Illuminator) is powered by a DLP projector and a four-camera sensory system that includes an HP High-Resolution Camera with up to 14.6 megapixel resolution, and the Intel® RealSense™3D camera for object capture.
From the demo footage, the most useful feature appears to be the touch screen capabilities—users can drag images from the front-facing monitor to the touch mat for manipulation. The user experience looks completely hands-on without the need for a mouse, and it incorporates a stylus, digital keyboard and video editing tools into the touch mat. This kind of tactile design experience looks to be Sprout’s key selling point.
“People have always created with their hands,” says Ron Coughlin, senior vice president, Consumer PC & Solutions, HP, in the press materials. “Until now, the physical and digital worlds have largely been separated and digital creation has remained in 2-D.” These sorts of heady statements are par for the course for 3-D printer manufacturers, especially those who are targeting the consumer and SMB market—which HP is surely doing with Sprout. The product is expected to become available on the retail market by Q1 2016; HP is anticipating a retail price tag of under $1,900.
Over the past two years prices of 3-D printers have become affordable for household and SMB use. We are already seeing mid-range models from MakerBot retailing for under $1,400, and price points on consumer 3-D printers fell below $500 this summer with the XYZprinting da Vinci 1.0 model. These devices are geared towards tinkerers, makers, and creative-types interested in the design and prototyping potential offered by this exciting new technology—something we have seen take hold in the small business community this year.
Analysts expect HP to shake up the market for 3-D printing machines. By IDC International estimates, global spending on 3-D printers, supplies and services will total $2.7 billion this year, with anticipated annual growth rates near 30 percent. Dion Weisler, head of the printing and PC arm of Hewlett-Packard, is hoping to make inroads with this high-profile new technology, though others in the company have mentioned their target market will likely be big industrial users and service bureaus (3-D print shops). This seems to indicate HP will leverage their technology for industrial grade machines that typically sell in the $150,000-$500,000 range. If this is the case, it is incongruous with Sprout’s initial marketing efforts that clearly target home and SMB users.
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In any case, we will continue to closely monitor this exciting new technology as it continues to evolve. We are anticipating that 3-D printing will continue to make a huge impact in the way entrepreneurial minds bring their ideas to life.