SAN FRANCISCO Hewlett-Packard Co (HPQ.N) will outline plans to enter the commercial 3D-printing market in June, saying it has solved a number of technical problems that have hindered broader adoption of the high-tech manufacturing process.
Chief Executive Meg Whitman told shareholders on Tuesday the company will make a "big technology announcement" that month around how it will approach a market that has excited the imagination of investors and consumers.
Critics have accused the sci-fi-like technology of being over-hyped and still too immature for widespread consumer adoption.
Industry observers have long expected HP, the largest of several printer-making companies from Canon (7751.T) to Xerox (XRX.N), to eventually get into the business. Whitman said HP's inhouse researchers have resolved limitations involved with the quality of substrates used in the process, which affects the durability of finished products.
"We actually think we've solved these problems," Whitman told an annual shareholders meeting. "The bigger market is going to be in the enterprise space," manufacturing parts and prototypes in ways that were not possible before.
"We're on the case," she said without elaborating.
HP executives have estimated that worldwide sales of 3D printers and related software and services will grow to almost $11 billion by 2021 from a mere $2.2 billion in 2012.
The nascent 3D-printing market is now dominated by a number of smaller players like MakerBot, a unit of Stratasys (SSYS.O) that is concentrating on selling more affordable devices to consumers.
Contract manufacturers like Flextronics (FLEX.O) however already use the technology to help craft prototype parts or devices for corporate clients.
"HP is currently exploring the many possibilities of 3D printing and the company will play an important role in its development," CTO and HP Labs director Martin Fink said in a February blogpost on HP's website.
"The fact is that 3D printing is really still an immature technology, but it has a magical aura. The sci-fi movie idea that you can magically create things on command makes the idea of 3D printing really compelling for people."
(Reporting by Edwin Chan; editing by Andrew Hay)