At the beginning of 2010, the 3D printing world got very excited when Stratasys announced a definitive agreement with HP whereby Stratasys would develop and manufacture an exclusive line of 3D printers for HP — the DesignJet 3D. The intent being that HP would drill 3D printing down through its vast sales channels, with a specific focus on MCAD users. A noble aim. At the beginning of this month, both companies have revealed that they are to go their separate ways at the end of 2012. I didn’t pounce on this news when it first broke because, although it is significant, I have been pondering the implications and why the original intent of the partnership did not live up to its potential?
Few are surprised that Stratasys and HP are to part company after just three years, particularly since the announcement that Stratasys and Objet are to merge and then the subsequent launch of the Mojo 3D printer — both revealed earlier this year. Indeed the Mojo was a huge signpost, developed to target precisely the same market as the DesignJet 3D.
You could be forgiven for wondering why I am talking company politics here on Personalize — a site dedicated to the maker community and consumers of 3D printing hardware and services. After all Stratasys (and Objet) are very much vendors of mid-high range industrial 3D printers. Well, let me explain…
Reflecting on my blog posts at the time and particularly Scott Crump’s assertion in the original press release that he “believe[d that] the time [was] right for 3D printing to become mainstream.” I suggested then that caution was needed — I suspected it was too early. Now with 20/20 hindsight so it has proved.
The world was not ready for mainstream 3D printing then, and even as it is gaining in awareness and uptake today — it still isn’t. I have discussed the reasons many times, but essentially the 3D printers themselves are not universally user-friendly enough for mainstream adoption and do not consistently produce universal parts in a wide enough range of materials. And this is what I think is behind the Stratasys / HP decision for them to go their separate ways — for now. I still believe a time will come when the intent of the original agreement will be relevant, I suspect there will be people at both Stratasys and HP that believe this too — they were just a couple of decades too early.
Mainstream adoption is the Holy Grail, but we have to be patient. The R&D that will eventually produce a mainstream quality 3D printer is ongoing, it will come, but for now I think we have to encourage the early adopters of the entry level systems — sharing their joy and frustrations — and promote 3D printing as a service for consumers. By so doing the 3D printing industry will continue to gather momentum, grow and flourish.