3D Printing: Can HP Compete? (Update 1)

Updated from 10 a.m. EST to include information in the seventh paragraph.

NEW YORK ( TheStreet)-- The Consumer Electronics Show showcased 3D printing, with companies like MakerBot, a subsidiary of Stratasys ( SSYS), capturing praise and adulation as it proudly showed-off three new 3D-printers.

For HP ( HPQ), the gathering wasn't so clearcut. The Palo Alto-based technology provider, which said last year that it was looking to get into the burgeoning market, risks falling further behind companies such as Makerbot if it can't get to market with a differentiated product. And quickly.

Earlier this week, MakerBot CEO Bre Pettis showed off three new printers at CES, as the Brooklyn-based MakerBot said it expects to get to 1 million units sold, up from 44,000 currently. In addition, the company announced a new printer focused on the retail market, the Replicator Mini Compact, which retails for $1,375 and is expected to be available in the spring. MakerBot also announced a "prosumer" version of the One Touch, with more buttons, and lastly the Z18, geared towards industry.

That's a lot of activity from one 3D-printer maker. If only HP could match such as fraction of that output.

Cantor Fitzgerald analyst Brian White says the 3D-printing space saw strong foot traffic on the floors of the Las Vegas Convention Center, with "no shortage of enthusiasm around the space this week." Given that HP CEO Meg Whitman made comments during a recent earnings call about moving into the 3D printing space, it's perked up the ears of White and other analysts on Wall Street.

In the research note, White said HP "is waiting for a competitive angle to create a differentiated product offering that can deliver benefits around speed, quality, and cost."

Jefferies analysts also noted that the crowds surrounding 3D printing were "bigger than we expected," and found some of the product announcements from 3D Systems DDD, which competes with Stratasys and potentially HP, particularly interesting. "3D Systems discussed continued acquisitions and reseller network," Jefferies wrote in a note. "Management said that the pace of acquisitions is dependent on market factors and that the company does not have a set requirement on price."

On a Nov. earnings call, Whitman said Palo Alto, Calif.-based HP would move into 3D printing because it's not an adjacent market. "It's obviously different than paper printing but some of the technology is the same," Whitman said on the call. "And at least as we see here today, we anticipate adding -- entering this organically."

Whitman went on to note HP could enter either the consumer or industrial markets, and that the company has "some very interesting things coming." However, given the speed at which companies like MakerBot, 3D Systems ( DDD), ExOne ( XONE) and others are bringing products to market, HP may have to do so sooner rather than later if it doesn't want to get left behind.

HP shares were slipping 0.1% to $27.58 in morning trading.

-- Written by Chris Ciaccia in New York

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