NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- I would love to believe Hewlett-Packard (HPQ - Get Report) can become great again. It's a great brand that stands for engineering excellence, white shirts and pocket protectors.But that HP disappeared when Agilent ( A - Get Report) was spun out in 1999. What was left was a consumer products giant, a rumbling, bumbling, stumbling company trading on its name, growing in size but losing its reason for being. CEO Meg Whitman keeps promising to turn things around, but her moves make no sense to me. The move that makes the least sense was the decision taken this summer to end its relationship with 3D printing leader Stratasys ( SSYS - Get Report), whose printers it had been selling as the "DesignJet" line since 2010. This is a business at the very top of its hype cycle, projected to be a $3.1 billion industry in 2016 by Wohlers Associates. ( The report is available here.) Not much when your sales are running at $130 billion/year, but growing fast and ready to transform the world. At his blog, Terry Wohlers says 3D printing, or "additive manufacturing," has reached a tipping point, where it moves from being a niche market to a mass market. That's when HP walks away? At Shaping the Future, Christopher Barnatt notes there are many types of 3D printers. The Stratasys units HP sold use "fused deposition modeling" or FDM - injection molding plastic goes in as a thread and is deposited into the input design. Other types of 3D printing include:
- Stereolithographers, or SLAs, which use lasers to deposit layers of polymer that is hardened after it's deposited. Polyjet matrix devices that spray two polymers from a print head to harden quickly under an ultraviolet light. Selective Laser Sintering, or SLS, devices that fuse layers of powder together and can use a variety of materials from wax and nylon to stainless steel and aluminum. SLS machines that use metals are sometimes called Direct Metal Laser Sintering, or DMLS machines. You can also make metal objects by using SLS to create a mold you pour metal into, a production method almost as old as civilization. Selective Laser Melting, or SLM, will fully melt the powder being used in molding, not just fuse it together. Selective Heat Sintering, or SHS, uses a thermal print head instead of a laser to heat the powder being melted as it is deposited. Multi-Jet Modeling, or MJM, uses an inkjet print head to bind successive layers of fused powder together into a final form.