HP Indigo commercial digital printer

Printers: Tomorrow’s Manufacturers?

I am just back from the DSCOOP conference for owners of Hewlett Packard’s Indigo commercial digital printers, and I think there is something exciting happening there that is worth sharing. First of all, let’s be clear that we’re not talking about your desktop laser or “All-In-One” inkjet here. HP Indigo printers are SUV to small truck sized machines which put out tens of thousands of pages an hour.

Buzz at the conference was not just about the cool things that companies are doing with these printers, but what’s coming next: HP’s Multi Jet Fusion 3D Printers.

I thought about the implications of that: if I put together the 3D printer’s ability to fabricate almost anything; with the Commercial Printer’s ability to juggle multiple, radically different request from a plethora of Customers; with the leap in efficiency that printers’ transition to digital printing has forced; then I get a business that can fabricate small to medium quantities of anything, for anyone, with almost immediate turnaround and at razor thin costs. Wow!

It is conventional wisdom that printing is a “dying industry”, and certainly the number of printers has been slashed in the United States over the past 7 years — from 55,000 to 35,000 — and had been expected to fall further to 25,000. I’m seriously wondering if that is going to be the case. 10 years from now we may call them “Makers” rather than “Printers”, but I see something very exciting happening in this space. There will be radical changes required — especially to integrate and generalize information systems, but I think the guy who prints your business cards and sales materials may be the best placed to exploit the coming fabrication revolution!

We will pick up our series on protecting your software investment again next week!