At its annual stockholder meeting last week, Hewlett-Packard CEO Meg Whitman delivered a delicious critique of 3D printing speeds. "[It's] like watching ice melt," she said.
HP, said Whitman, has solved some of the problems with 3D printing, including its speed, and plans "a big technology announcement in June" about it.
It turns out that this June announcement is vaporware. HP may indeed have solved some 3D printing problems, but the proof isn't coming in June. The fall is more likely.
In February, HP published some comments by Martin Fink, its CIO and director of HP Labs, who described 3-D printing technology as "really still immature."
But Fink's comments on the HP Web site were updated on March 22, following the annual meeting, with a preamble that said this:
"During our Annual Meeting of Stockholders on March 19, HP answered a shareholder question about our 3-D printing program and inadvertently stated that we would be making a technology announcement in June, when in fact we are planning to make that announcement by the end of our fiscal year," wrote HP.
HP's fiscal year end Oct. 31.
Regardless of how long it takes, HP has good reason to enter the market.
By 2020, Gartner estimates that the Internet of Things will reach 26 billion installed units. The number is unreal and tells little, until you dissect how these devices change the supply chain.
The connected devices will deliver a lot of information about inventory, product needs, and even the freshness of perishable products. They will also change manufacturing, especially when coupled with 3D printers.
Gartner estimates the 3D printer shipments will be increasing in the 90% range annually for both enterprise and consumer use through 2017.
Michael Burkett, a supply chain analyst at Gartner, describes a potential scenario.
A computer maker may ship products to markets, Asia and Europe that have some differences. But the component is something that can be added at the warehouse just before a customer orders it. A 3D printer is put into use to produce the part as needed, he said. "I essentially have zero inventory until I print the part," said Burkett.
If 3D printing can deliver as promised, Burkett predicts that it will disrupt the entire supply chain. But the broader application may be Internet of Things itself, which will change supply chain by delivering "deeper market insight" and even automate actions, such deciding when to refresh product inventories.
Patrick Thibodeau covers cloud computing and enterprise applications, outsourcing, government IT policies, data centers and IT workforce issues for Computerworld. Follow Patrick on Twitter at @DCgov or subscribe to Patrick's RSS feed . His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.