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Printer Vendors Eye 3-D, Vertical Software, Security And Cloud For Future Growth

HP is accelerating its efforts in 3-D printing in a bid to disrupt the manufacturing industry, while Xerox looks at vertical software and Lexmark boosts its cloud and security features.

Printer vendors are looking to 3-D printing, vertical-focused software, security and cloud features as the key drivers of future growth.

During the recent XChange 2018 conference in San Antonio, hosted by CRN parent The Channel Company, CRN convened a roundtable of executives from HP, Xerox and Lexmark to discuss where their products and partner efforts are headed next.

Dan McDonnell, vice president of U.S. Print Channel at HP, highlighted 3-D print as an important opportunity, while Greg Chavers, vice president of North America Channel Sales at Lexmark and John Reilly, vice president of U.S. Channel Sales at Xerox, and pointed to other areas of innovation that are taking priority at their companies.

"I would say innovation going forward for us, it's going to include the things that are top of mind for most customers right now," Chavers said. "More security advancements, cloud offerings, mobile print, intelligent capture on the devices so that they can act as a more like a workflow put portals in the business environment."

[Related: Printer Security Risks Loom As Silent Threat To Networks]

Lexmark this summer launched a massive revamp of its product lineup, refreshing 92 percent of its portfolio and adding new security and cloud management features.

At Xerox, meanwhile, printer innovation may take more of a "verticalized" approach, with printers that can help teachers to give exams and help hospitals with patient care, Reilly said.

“All of this is software-centric," he said. "You can even layer on verticalized software, where you have things such as health care, which manages the discharge process, that a health care provider would use as they off-road a patient, or a SLED (state, local and education government) environment where the school is trying to translate documents for a multilingual school [district]."

The 3-D Opportunity

For its part, HP recently released the first details on its plans for expanding into production of metal 3-D printers, with the announcement of the Metal Jet printer.

The expansion follows HP's launch of 3-D printers in plastics, both for the creation of production parts and prototypes. HP's Multi Jet Fusion 4210/4200 models focus on printing final production parts, while the forthcoming Jet Fusion 300 series and 500 series focus on creating prototypes.

McDonnell cited the huge market for manufacturing, which HP pegs at $12 trillion in revenue generated annually, that the company is aiming to disrupt with its 3-D printers.

"3-D is coming, and it'll probably be bigger than 2-D in 10 years," McDonnell said during the CRN roundtable. "There's a massive shift to it. But we're not losing sight of what the business is today," he said, noting that HP is "not giving up what we have today in terms of the current business" to pursue the 3-D opportunity.

HP's 3-D printers leverage technology that HP developed in the inkjet market to control prints down to a finely detailed, precise level, known as a "voxel" level. The Multi Jet Fusion 3-D printer has the ability to make parts at up to 10-times the speed and half the cost of competing methods, according to HP.

Orinda, Calif.-based Hawk Ridge Systems, a value-added reseller for HP's Multi Jet Fusion printers, is "very bullish" on the printers, said Paul Rudin, Hawk Ridge's vice president of digital manufacturing.

"We're heavily investing in not only the technology but the personnel and growing out this 3-D print side of the business. We anticipate significant growth over the next few years," he said.

The ability to provide both high speed and quality for printing of production parts is a major advantage for HP's technology, Rudin said. "There's no doubt that speed is a huge selling point to what HP is bringing to the table," he said.

Ultimately, "for the first time we're seeing customers truly designing and printing parts for production use" with HP's 3-D print technology, Rudin said.

Early adopter customers of Hawk Ridge for the HP 3-D printers include contract manufacturers that can more easily and affordably produce small runs of production parts, he said.

"We've got some customers that are really building their future around the HP Multi Jet Fusion technology," Rudin said.

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