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Don't believe the hype: HP CEO says 3D printing hasn't met early hopes

Now, who talked up that market to begin with?

Canalys Channels Forum HP Inc. CEO Enrique Lores says orders for 3D printers are falling short of early promise, with some analysts saying the tech has failed to cross into the mainstream despite a relative boom during the pandemic.

As of September 2021, HP said more than 100 million parts had been produced with the assistance of 3D printers, though the company does not carry that level of specificity into financial results for its 3D printer portfolio.

At the recent Canalys Channels Forum in Barcelona, CEO Steve Brazier remarked to HP leader Lores that the overall market has disappointed in light of earlier estimates.

"I think clearly the growth rates have not been what all of us were expecting, I would say five, six years ago. But I think the long term opportunity continues to be there. Especially as we think of new supply chain models where manufacturing will be more local, more distributed," he explained.

"What we have done during the last two years is we have shifted our strategy. We not only focus anymore on developing hardware systems or consumables or services around the hardware. We saw that there was the need and the opportunity of building more end-to-end applications," Lores added.

HP has a unique model for its 3D print business. Their teams build the hardware and design the part and in many cases, this is what is sold to the end user. That process lets the vendor "understand better what the trends of the market are but also drive growth and accelerate our growth in some of the key areas."

In 2016, the year HP entered 3D printing, Canalys forecast compound annual growth [PDF] for global market sales of 43.5 percent between 2015 to 2020, reaching an annual value of $22.4 billion. According to Context, revenues generated by 3D printing in 2020 were actually $12.6 billion.

Matthew Ball, chief analyst at Canalys, told us that "like other technologies, there is a lot of hype around its initial stages but the use cases are niche or at least limited within industrial segments."

"I think it's the use cases," he added. "I think the initial expectation was that every every household would have one, every business would have one, but ultimately it's a different form of manufacturing, micro-manufacturing."

Ball thinks that longer term it will take off in a bigger way, "it's easier to underestimate, you know, the longer term and overestimate the short term."

Consumer 3D printing boomed during the pandemic as lower-end personal and kit and hobby printers found a new home among users, however sales plunged from the start of this year. A recovery in the Industrial segment in Q1 proved short-lived, with inflation and COVID lockdowns in China disrupting the supply chain.

"Consumer 3D printing is not really 'plug and play' and while it allows everyone to be a 'maker', printers are not 'plug and play' and require ongoing maintenance and a certain level of patience," said Chris Connery, global head of analysis at Context. "Growth in shipments of new consumer-centric printers has trailed off since the worst of the pandemic."

Connery adds that in the business sector, 3D printers – which range in price from $5,000 to $4 million – are on manufacturing floors, engineering or architecture departments, and being used make rocket parts to orthopedic implants.

"The business side of 3D printing continues to accelerate beyond its original use as just tools for prototyping," said Connery.

Canalys thinks 3D printing will try cross over into the mainstream but Jay McBain, chief analyst told us the market for consumers need a global platform or network where they are offered the choice to print a product rather than buy it. "That's the tipping point." His point stood for business sector too, he said. ®

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