The Third Frontier: How the Industry Could Approach 3D Print and Its Opportunities

Print Audit’s West McDonald Talks Challenges and Benefits


HP made waves in May when it announced plans to release the world’s first production-ready 3D printing system. With printing titan HP now promising to deliver a 3D printer with unprecedented power, folks all over the tech space are paying attention to the exciting world of 3D printing—including those who work in MPS. This is not only because of the enhanced capabilities of the device, but because HP is perhaps the most channel-friendly OEM in the business.

Never the types to be left in the dust on industry trends, Print Audit’s West McDonald explored the possibilities of 3D printing for the channel in a recent blog post.

Challenges to Growth
McDonald lays out a few roadblocks to more widespread 3D print adoption. For starters, 3D print is pretty far removed from “2D” print. In fact, one should hardly call it printing at all. “2D printing prints pixels on 8.5"×11" paper, but 3D printing prints/extrudes/adds/etc. onto itself using Voxels,” wrote McDonald. “One has absolutely nothing to do with the other. Perhaps ‘tool-less manufacturing’ or ‘rapid manufacturing’ are better ways to think about it.”  Making the distinction between the two is important to avoid any confusion.

As far as MPS providers are concerned, it remains to be seen through which channels 3D print services will be provided. The HP Jet Fusion product is slated to start at $155,000, and that’s just for the smallest unit. As McDonald points out, “Considering the average channel partner currently sells HP print-enabled devices ranging from $200 to $10,000 in range, I don’t see very many partners that would be in the right category to sell these. While the price of 3D printing continues to fall, machines as high end as the Jet Fusion will be out of most customers’ budgets for quite some time.”

3D print supports a wide range of materials, from plastics, to metals, and everything in between. What could become a headache for providers, however, are the standards for these materials. As of this time, HP is inviting creative minds to come up with new materials for their upcoming printer. It remains to be seen how this will work on a business level. “Is HP going to take a cut of all material sales? Are they going to have a stringent authorization and certification process that will ensure that all materials must, first, go through them before hitting the market? ” McDonald wonders. “When it comes to toner cartridges, HP is dogged about doing all they can to completely own the supply channel. It will be interesting to see how this new ‘open standards’ approach works for them in the world of 3D printing.”

All of these issues boil down to uncertainty. Despite the obvious potential, there is no real roadmap for dealers to monetize 3D print offerings at this time. On the flip side of things, the opportunities present offer a lot to be excited about.

Benefits to the Channel
Perhaps the most obvious benefit of 3D printing to most customers is that it provides a relatively simple, effective, and inexpensive way to build prototypes. With some cursory training, even the least technologically inclined users can take a Makerbot device and deliver 3D prototypes. Even at this most basic level of prototyping, a number of materials are already available.

The technology is also become more affordable each day. At one point even the most basic devices cost well over ten thousand dollars, but companies like Printrbot have devices as cheap as $399 for entry-level needs. Most business customers will want something closer to the mid-range, but the dropping barrier to entry makes 3D print worth examining for everyone.

Ultimately, there is an appeal in the fact that this technology is still in its infancy and will only grow within the next few years. The Print Audit blog post cites a figure that the 3D print space is projected to grow to over $30 billion by 2022. And even in this early stage, every industry is being affected. Folks are printing bridges and auto parts. Some are even making food and, perhaps most impressively, human organs. HP CEO Dion Weisler is wasting no time getting the company’s foot in the door and is taking steps towards building a channel for the Jet Fusion systems. Put quite simply, it won’t be long before workers in every vertical market find their jobs changed by 3D print in some way shape or form. Why not become familiar with the technology as soon as possible?