3D Printers

Xerox CEO announces 3D printing roadmap, 3D printer in 2019?

Xerox, the U.S manufacturer of printers and photocopiers, plans to “participate” in the 3D printing industry, according to a new statement by the CEO.

On yesterday’s call with investors and analysts to report Q3 2018 financial results, John Visentin announced that Xerox is, “developing a roadmap to participate in 3D printing.”

“We are developing a roadmap to participate in 3D printing. We currently manufacture 3D printheads that we OEM where we have differentiated capabilities around print technologies, materials, toner and software that will enable 3D printing to move to the next level of adoption for the production of end use industrial products.”

The statement can be broken down into three sections.

First, there is the announcement of an intent to make a strategy or roadmap. Speaking to 3D Printing Industry, a Xerox spokesperson confirmed that the full details of the 3D printing project will not become more apparent until an investor day scheduled for February 2019.

Secondly, Xerox reminded investors that they currently manufacture printheads used across the additive manufacturing sector. Printouts is most likely a transcription error. These Xerox printheads are made at their Wilsonville, Oregon site.

In 2013, 3D Systems spent $32.5 million to acquire expertise from the Wilsonville R&D team. The deal included taking on some of the engineering team, labs and IP licensing – giving 3D Systems greater control over the production of the ProJet range of 3D printers. Xerox has continued to develop ink and printhead technology and has a range of industrial inkjet printheads designed for, “high throughput, high reliability and high durability”. Xerox’s PARC remains very much active in other AM related research.

The final part of the statement notes that Xerox has, “differentiated capabilities around print technologies, materials, toner and software”. By calling out the 3D printing trifecta of hardware, software and material it is not much of a leap to imagine Xerox bringing a 3D printing system to market.

Xerox printheads. Photo via Xerox.
Xerox printheads. Photo via Xerox.

A Xerox 3D printer in 2019

The financial results were latest in what has been called a “long-running decline in its core business” with net profit at half the level of the previous year.

For the majority of this decade, Xerox shares have traded in a relatively narrow band between $20 to $30. Yesterday’s announcement coincided with a 4% increase, taking the share price to $27 at one point.

CEO Giovanni “John” Visentin was brought in by activist investors Carl Icahn and Darwin Deason in a bid to reverse the fortunes of the 112 year old company. As the largest shareholder in Xerox, Icahn successfully blocked a merger with Japan’s Fujifilm and has set about replacing an executive team described as lacking in “intestinal fortitude”.

Some in the traditional 2D printing market have remained cautious about entering the additive manufacturing industry. In 2014, HP was one of the first among a group that includes Ricoh, Canon and Epson, to announce plans for a 3D printer. Commercial availability of the HP Multi Jet Fusion system began in 2017, with the HP Metaljet 3D printer planned for 2021.

Skeptics say that by announcing intent to bring a product to market so far in advance, large enterprises are attempting deter capital expenditure. Companies who might buy a 3D printer instead wait until the promised offering arrives. A more charitable interpretation is that until relatively recently the market for 3D printers was insufficient to warrant the major investment required to develop new hardware – a perspective expressed by HP execs among others.

Outside the printing sector and in the world of industrial machines, a similar view can be found. At this years IMTS event in Chicago, the DMG Mori president expressed his view that the 2020s will be the decade of additive manufacturing.

While it is possible that 2019 sees a 3D printer launched by Xerox, a more likely timeline is a gradual feed of information. Whether that is enough to provide comfort to investors is another prospect.

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Featured image shows something that is not a Xerox 3D printer. Photo by Michael Petch.