Lionel Chng, Managing Director, HP Singapore By Zachary Chan Photography Darren Chang

Portrait of Tammy Strobel

Lionel Chng, Managing Director, HP Singapore

My Reading Room

By leveraging HP technology and open platforms where people can develop future solutions, suddenly you have the next great thing.

HP isn’t just #1 in PC shipments again, but it’s the only brand showing a strong uptrend in both PC and printer businesses. What is HP’s secret sauce?

There’s a lot of hard work that goes beyond the fact that consumers see our end products, 3D printers and A3 multi-function copiers. There are also these cool devices that we’ve been able to create; innovations in our products that our CEO likes to call ‘sprinkles of magic’; our investments into AR and VR. Those are the areas that are more cutting edge, but at the same time our core base of PCs and printers get to be evolved into the next level: thinner, lighter, more powerful, more secure.

But isn’t everyone else doing the same thing with their products?

From a HP perspective, it’s important to stay on the curve; as in the latest products being thinnest, lightest, more powerful, etc. Then we bring in the sprinkles of magic. It allows us to play in fun areas which is profitable, but also create amazing experiences. Even something as simple as the Sprocket pocket printer. Such things require investment in R&D, consumer testing, and marketing to bring it to market, differentiating ourselves versus the run of the mill offering beyond the box.

So would you say these sprinkles of magic have helped HP reconnect back to your user base?

As we keep to our theme of keep reinventing, we reach out with products that can be a lot cooler, more hip, more relevant; creating needs where people may not have thought of in the past. And that puts us in the forefront. People talk about them.

Let me give you one example. As we bring the word out in terms of our treatment of 3D printing and how it disrupts manufacturing, they (the manufacturers) become very keen and then the buzzword becomes that HP is leading the 3D printing front. When it comes to consumers, they see the types cool of products that we bring out (e.g. Sprocket, VR backpack). Singapore is also important because when we start doing well in the business, we get to give back into the community through our sustainability efforts. We call it Social Impact in HP and that continues to build the momentum behind the brand.

Is that why the big push into 3D printing? The hype?

We start at a fundamental need where people may not realize how big the problem is, or do not have a solution for. Challenges such as parts availability, inventory, and logistics. As a manufacturer, how do you do fast prototyping and mass customization as we head towards Industry 4.0. Those were some of the challenges people were grappling with, and we looked at the technology we had. We’ve got pocket printers all the way to printing graphics as large as a bus. We know printing very well. And it became a very important and strategic adjacency, 3D printing. By leveraging HP technology and open platforms where people can develop future solutions, suddenly you have the next great thing. That’s why we started that journey.

You used the word disruption, how so?

If you ever have a chance to visit our SMARC (Smart Manufacturing Applications and Research Centre) lab, we have different types of prototyping over there. But it’s not just all the fun stuff, there’s a concept of HP on HP. So, over a hundred parts of our 3D printer? Are printed by itself.

(That’s) very disruptive from our point of view because we buy thousands of parts for all our ink supplies, printers, and printheads. For example, our printheads have this protective plastic cover. That piece of plastic is complicated by itself because it involves injection molding and must be fully customized for that printhead. What if I wanted to make something else? I’d have to create another injection mold. That’s thousands of dollars. If you’re able to 3D print that that, then your R&D and manufacturing will be able to test something new very fast. If they wanted to test multiple versions of it? They are able to (just) print and mass customize that particular product. Even different types of 3D printing materials can be printed at the same time, in one print run, from one single printer; or by the hundreds. That’s where the disruption can be.

So what’s in it for consumers?

I think eventually products will get stronger and more affordable. I wouldn’t say cheaper, but there must be a cost savings either for the manufacturer or the end consumer. Definitely in terms of speed to market, you can get products out much faster and the possibilities of customization are endless.

That’s great for manufacturers, but how about consumer 3D printing?

There was this initial interest surge, then it became a very maker space type of thing. But as we go down the road of being more affordable… for example, if you’ve got friends who have problems with their sole or their ankles hurt, they might go for customizable insoles. That is something that is already being tested with some of the partnerships we have; with Nike for example. The capability to digitally scan and then to print is very important.

That’s what I mean. Just about any camera can do 3D scanning. With the right software and a personal 3D printer, I could replace parts by myself. Why aren’t we there yet?

It (3D printing) should be for the betterment of society, but it has to be controlled in some way or another. I don’t think there’s strong regulation just yet in terms of what can or cannot be done because when you search on the Internet, you can find the data. In the early days, people were printing gun parts and all that. That is one danger we have to be careful about. Whatever that is good can potentially be used for something bad as well.

That is one area that we are not exploring at this point, and from a consumer standpoint we are very watchful in terms of how 3D printing can potentially be abused.

By Zachary Chan Photography Darren Chang