HP Unveils Cheaper, 3-D Printing System to Spur Sales

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Hewlett-Packard Co. unveiled a new 3-D-capable computer and speedier 3-D printer technology as it prepares to spin off its personal-computer and printer businesses into a stand-alone company.

The company today introduced Sprout, an $1,899 computer that lets people scan and manipulate 2-D and 3-D objects. It will be available early next month online and in some U.S. stores. Hewlett-Packard also said new 3-D printer technology will make the process cheaper and faster than competitors.

The Palo Alto, California-based company is betting that 3-D technology will help revitalize sales and spur growth in the printer industry. More than 2.3 million 3-D printers will ship in 2018, up from about 108000 this year, according to researcher Gartner Inc. Earlier this month, Hewlett-Packard said it would split into two companies by late 2015, with one focused on corporate hardware services and the other -- dubbed HP Inc. -- on PCs and printers.

“We wanted it to be this guiding light in a way HP can innovate again,” Eric Monsef, Hewlett-Packard’s vice president of Immersive Systems, said in an interview. He said he hopes Sprout will “draw people back to HP as a recruitment tool”.

The device pairs a PC running Microsoft Corp.’s Windows 8 operating system with Hewlett-Packard-developed software, scanner and camera, along with a work surface that -- combined with a projector -- serves as a touch-aware second screen. This means users can scan objects and manipulate them digitally in fewer steps than with typical systems.

3-D Printing

Hewlett-Packard didn’t disclose any sales targets for the system. On top of design agencies and architecture firms, There are 6 million households in the U.S. that have the necessary income and appetite to buy the machine, according to Louis Kim, Hewlett-Packard’s vice president of product management.

Hewlett-Packard is also developing new 3-D printing technology, called “multi-jet fusion,” which it plans to introduce in 2016. This approach lets users print out three dimensional objects cheaply and quickly compared with existing methods, according to Ramon Pastor, the general manager of Hewlett-Packard’s Large Format and 3D Printing business.

Typical 3-D printers work in one of two ways: Fused Deposition Modeling, which involves laying down materials that harden quickly; and stereolithography printing, which uses a laser to zap a photo-reactive resin to sculpt an object.

Stratasys, 3D Systems

Hewlett-Packard’s new approach is different. The technology employs an array of print heads to spit out an entire layer of a 3-D object at once, speeding up the process and offering greater detail. The machine’s resolution of 1,200 dots per inch compares with rival systems being sold by Stratasys Ltd. and 3D Systems Corp., which are both typically capable of 600 dots per inch.

Hewlett-Packard fell less than 1 percent to $35.38 at the close in New York, while Stratasys fell 0.8 percent to $116.83. 3D Systems dropped 4.7 percent to $37.10.

“The reality is that no one print technology provides the best parts for all applications,” said Tom Charron, vice president of product marketing at Rock Hill, South Carolina-based 3D Systems. “3D printing is used for myriad purposes by myriad users printing myriad parts.”

Joe Hiemenz, a spokesman for Eden Prairie, Minnesota-based Stratasys, declined to “disclose any advances that may be in development.”

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