The 3D printing industry is garnering a lot of attention lately as 3D printer models reach your local office supply store or are available for purchase online. As prices have dropped, interest in the technology has increased among amateurs and professionals alike. Many issues revolve around the use of this technology, such as the potential lawsuits that may arise from piracy of copyrighted designs and product liability of items that have been repeatedly modified by different parties, which may impact the companies that make the technology available.
Despite the challenges arising from its use, 3D printing is expected to change manufacturing, especially of items that are produced in lower volumes, and make it easier for the average Joe or Jane to build a prototype. How can companies like Microsoft Corporation (NASDAQ:MSFT), Hewlett-Packard Company (NYSE:HPQ), or Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL) jump on this emerging consumer trend that could provide opportunities for future growth?
Microsoft and its latest Windows update
At Build 2013, a developer conference in San Francisco, Microsoft Corporation (NASDAQ:MSFT) presented Makerbot’s Replicator desktop 3D printer model and how Windows 8.1 provides native support to 3D printers, the first operating system to have this capability. According to Barron’s and The Verge, “developers will be able to add 3D printing capabilities to their apps, and printing an object will be a simple tap on a ‘charm,’ a utility shortcut on the side of the Windows 8.1 screen.” In addition, Microsoft Corporation (NASDAQ:MSFT) is planning on selling the Replicator in its stores, however, Windows 8.1 supports 3D printers from other vendors.
Shares of Stratasys, Ltd. (NASDAQ:SSYS) and 3D Systems Corporation (NYSE:DDD), which provide 3D printers to the consumer sector, rose after the announcement, while Microsoft Corporation (NASDAQ:MSFT) shares rose as well. Stratasys, Ltd. (NASDAQ:SSYS) recently purchased Makerbot and entered the consumer segment to compete with 3D Systems Corporation (NYSE:DDD)’ Cube desktop 3D printer, currently sold at Staples, Inc. (NASDAQ:SPLS). It will be interesting to see if Microsoft Corporation (NASDAQ:MSFT)’s addition of 3D printing capabilities to Windows will increase interest in the software and 3D printing and translate into higher sales for both products.
At HP, something’s brewing in the lab
Hewlett-Packard Company (NYSE:HPQ) first ventured into the 3D printing space through a partnership, created in 2010, with Stratasys, Ltd. (NASDAQ:SSYS) to create HP-branded 3D printers. The arrangement ended last year, but HP’s R&D team hasn’t abandoned research in 3D printing technology. A 2012 tech report from Hewlett-Packard Company (NYSE:HPQ) Labs discusses an ongoing project, called RAGNAROK, exploring the use of glass as a material in 3D printing, also referred to as additive manufacturing.