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Jeff Rowe
Jeff Rowe
Jeffrey Rowe has more than 40 years of experience in all aspects of industrial design, mechanical engineering, and manufacturing. On the publishing side, he has written well over 1,000 articles for CAD, CAM, CAE, and other technical publications, as well as consulting in many capacities in the … More »

One Year In, HP Inc. Continues To Reinvent Itself

 
November 3rd, 2016 by Jeff Rowe

If there ever was a company that has struggled to reinvent and find itself, as well as its former stature in consumer and commercial technology, it’s HP.

There was a time when HP had no equal in several product segments, such as test & measurement, calculators, pocket PCs/personal assistants, etc., but those days are long gone. Sure, the company reigns in printers, and their desktop and mobile workstations are good, but not nearly as compelling as in the good old days.

HP’s reign as the world’s largest manufacturer of personal computers came to an end in the second quarter of 2013. At the time sales figures showed that Chinese PC manufacturer Lenovo shipped more computers during that period than HP, which had held the crown as the largest PC maker since at least 2006.

In an attempt to return to its former glory days, HP split into two public companies with one side focusing on its cloud and enterprise market (Hewlett-Packard Enterprise), and the other on personal systems (computers) and printers (HP Inc.). To make this happen, the company also cut thousands of jobs in the process.


This Is What the Future Looks Like for HP Inc. | Fortune

Hewlett-Packard Enterprise has a portfolio across technology infrastructure, software, and services through the cloud, big data, security and mobility in IT. By leveraging its HP Financial Services capability, the company positioned itself for creating technology deployment models based on specific business needs. Additionally, the company intended for HP Financial Services to continue to provide financing and business model innovation for customers and partners of HP Inc.

HP Inc. has continued in the personal systems and 3D printing markets with new technologies. The new company’s cash flow have enabled investments in growth markets such as 3D printing and new computing experiences.

As part of a reorganization that started when Meg Whitman took over as CEO in 2011, total job cuts exceeded 60,000.

Whitman said the split would give the two companies “the independence, focus, financial resources, and flexibility they need to adapt quickly to market and customer dynamics.”

“Our work during the past [several] years has significantly strengthened our core businesses to the point where we can more aggressively go after the opportunities created by a rapidly changing market,” said Meg Whitman, Chairwoman of HP Inc., and President and CEO of HP Enterprise. “The decision to separate into two market-leading companies underscores our commitment to the turnaround plan. It will provide each new company with the independence, focus, financial resources, and flexibility they need to adapt quickly to market and customer dynamics, while generating long-term value for shareholders. In short, by transitioning now from one HP to two new companies, created out of our successful turnaround efforts, we will be in an even better position to compete in the market, support our customers and partners, and deliver maximum value to our shareholders.”

One year ago this week, HP Inc. was created as a result of the largest separation in corporate history, and that’s what I’ll focus on here.

The intent of HP Inc. was to reinvent itself and the industries it serves through a series of moves in 2D printing, 3D printing, and assorted personal systems.

Reinventing HP Inc.

Although many highlights of HP Inc.’s “Year of Reinvention” were announced, the ones that most directly affect readers of MCADCafe are its forays into 3D printing at two different scales.

Disrupting The $12 Trillion Manufacturing Industry with Commercial 3D Printing

HP introduced the HP Jet Fusion 3D Printing Solution, the world’s so-called first production-ready 3D printing system. “Introduced” is one thing, but the machine is still not shipping as far as we can tell.

HP has a vision for 3D printing for manufacturing parts on a relatively economical machine it calls the Multi Jet Fusion (MJF) 3D printer. The company claims these parts will have similar quality and characteristics as injection-molded parts, and will print at speeds that HP claims to be 10x compared to similar competing technologies.

However, I have to wonder if HP will be able to fulfill its promise.

HP wants to deliver SLS-quality parts on a system targeted at the professional 3D printer market. So-called professional 3D printers can be run in office environments and use photopolymers as material and inkjet printheads for material deposition. HP’s Multi Jet Fusion uses a printhead to jet a resin onto a powderbed where it will be fused.

In a Multi Jet Fusion technology white paper HP states, “Compared to SLS, HP Multi-Jet Fusion technology helps reduce the overall focused energy requirements needed to attain full fusing, resulting in more consistent material properties.” So SLS has higher “focused overall energy requirements,” yet the strong thermal bonds this energy creates is exactly what make SLS so desirable. So, exactly what is this process and can it really create material properties that match SLS and even injection-molded parts?

HP’s Multi Jet Fusion 3D printer

Historically, parts made from 3D printers, such as the MJF have lacked the robust mechanical properties of injection-molded parts. SLS is the only viable additive manufacturing technology capable of matching injection-molded parts in tensile strength and long-term stability. Materials undergoing the fusion process have issues that point to a natural limitation, not a technological oversight that HP or any other manufacturer can truly fix.

Outwardly, HP’s product and process appear to be extensions of 3D Systems’ 4500 technology that deposits an acrylate resin onto an acrylate powder bed, which is then heated for inducing polymerization. While this marriage of inkjet and powder-bed is innovative, the resulting parts probably won’t be as robust as thermally bonded, polyamide SLS parts.

That said, I am still somewhat skeptical of HP’s technology, yet hopeful because the machine is a potential dream product, but is it an impossible dream? HP has created a machine that could revolutionize the industry, now it just needs to find a way to make the machine work as claimed. No small feat.

Big bets have been placed on HP Inc. , and one of them is on an historic Hewlett-Packard strength: 2D printing. This time, however, it’s in 3D, and the risks and rewards are much bigger.

Most of today’s large commercial 3D printers are relatively slow, expensive, and difficult to use.

HP 3D printing to the rescue? The new division plans to launch a line of 3D printers “at some time” that promise to top competing machines from competitors such as Stratasys and 3D Systems. “All of the excitement about the market is real,” said Stephen Nigro, president of HP 3D Printing. “But there are a lot of problems to overcome.” Well said, and very true.

HP Multi Jet Fusion Technology: Disruptive 3D printing technology for a new era of manufacturing

The MJF technology uses a thermal inkjet array and chemical agents to produce what it says are more reliable and precise parts. Objects can be made from a variety of materials in an array of colors and, crucially, at speeds 10 times faster than what’s available from today’s commercial 3D printers.

It’s a steep climb, but Nigro, who started at HP in 1982 as part of the team that developed the first color inkjet printer, is optimistic: “We plan to be the leader in 3D printing.”

SME Fellow Terry Wohlers, a world-leading AM expert, has said that MJF is “one of the biggest developments in the history of additive manufacturing and 3D printing.”

This product, although tremendous in potential still does not have a firm price or general availability/delivery timeframe. When we asked directly about these issues at IMTS 2016 in September, the HP spokesperson would not comment on or off the record. Therefore, the skepticism.

Delivering Desktop “Creation Stations”

HP brought what is considered to be the future into education with its Sprout and Sprout 3D desktop creation stations.

Last year the HP Sprout really caught my eye as a computing platform that is truly unique because it is a desktop computer, but is also has an integrated 3D scanner for 3D object capture and editing, as well as 3D print options.

The Sprout is a relatively high-end Windows computer with a novel two-screen configuration and advanced cameras, which combined can make some creative activities possible. The second display, on a desktop touch sensitive mat, is a major advance in the physical user interface for computers.

HP spent five years developing the technology for Sprout. It gathered sensors, cameras, touch devices, and dual-screen display technologies, along with its computer capabilities, but had to wait for some of the technologies to mature and become more affordable.

The ambitious goal was to redefine interaction with a computer. Easier said than done.

Ultimately, HP wanted to make the creative process of building 3D objects easier, analogous to capturing, manipulating, and printing a photo. But, how to pull a 3D object into a computer with the ability to manipulate and see things from multiple perspectives? Early on in the design process it was determined that both projected light for the 2D capture process and a 14.6-megapixel high-resolution camera were required. By combining the two processes using a structured light scanning process, HP was able to capture objects in 3D. That’s a simplistic overview, but that’s basically how it works.

HP employs multiple methods for scanning objects into Sprout. The first uses Intel’s Real Sense camera that captures imagery as part of its ability to sense gestures. The design team also implemented photogrammetry, basically taking a series of 2D photos and stitching them into a 3D image. For high-resolution capture, HP uses visible structured light-scanning process using a digital light processing (DLP) projector. The camera has a 200-micron (0.2 mm) scanning resolution.

What is the HP Sprout?

So, there is no doubt that HP’s Sprout is unique, but how has it been accepted and how well is it selling? HP has not been forthcoming with sales figures, so I can’t even begin to surmise how it’s doing. However, I have been to a couple Maker events where the Sprout was being demonstrated and the owners seemed quite pleased with the results. Admittedly, the objects being scanned, edited, and printed were relatively simple, but the results were quite impressive.

Will the Sprout be a “halo” product for HP? Is the Sprout the beginning of trend for similar products by competitors? I tend to think not on both counts, but the Sprout is innovative and shows that HP is willing to explore new directions to fuel its future growth.

EDITOR’S NOTE: I wanted to take a closer look at HP’s Sprout and really see what it’s like for myself. I contacted HP for an evaluation machine for writing a comprehensive review on my experience, but repeated requests to the company went unanswered.

In the final analysis, we continue to wish HP Inc. all the best and hope it can continue to return to some semblance of its old self, which are now selves.

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