3D Printing Comes of Age
by Ryan Cole, Investment U Research Analyst
Monday, June 27, 2011
Yet again science fiction is becoming science fact.
This time, it's the Star Trek replicator.
Granted - we don't have the technology to rearrange molecules as we wish yet, as they do on the USS Enterprise. Still - the 3D printer comes close. As long as the underlying material can be put into cartridges, a 3D printer can create anything you want.
Believe it or not, the technology isn't new. In fact, 3D printers of one sort or another have been around for 25 years.
What's different now? Instead of costing millions of dollars - and being available only to large manufacturing companies - 3D printing machines now cost as little as $1,000, and are about to become the next must-have gadget for the masses.
What exactly is 3D printing?
Star Trek's Replicator Made Real...
At a grossly simplified level - 3D printing is the printing of any physical thing that can be turned into a liquid - at least at one step.
That means almost anything. From making sneakers, to creating foods with delicate designs, to dreaming up custom-made toys, 3D printing is more than capable.
3D printing is, right now, on the verge of becoming affordable for everyone. Much like when PCs jumped from college laboratories to homes, 3D printers are about to rewrite what we expect from technology.
- Five years ago, a standard 3D printer cost between $25,000 and $50,000.
- Today, 3D Systems (NYSE: DDD) has teamed up with the software-maker Autodesk (Nasdaq: ADSK) to offer a DIY 3D printing system for $1,500 (some assembly required). And that's just the most prominent of many examples.
This is the sweet spot - the level when mass alpha adopters jump in, and prices start to drop precipitously.
And who wouldn't want one?
3D Printing... A Revolution in Consumer Products
Instead of having to go hit-or-miss with clothing, you can print out a shirt that fits you perfectly. Instead of settling for the best pattern available, consumers can create their own- whether you're talking sports equipment, clothing, jewelry, or virtually anything else you can imagine.
It's not hard to envision a world in which, 10 or 20 years from now, every home will have a 3D printer. The key for investors is figuring out who will bring those 3D printers to the masses - and what company will provide the necessary cartridges.
That's no easy matter - it's still too early to pick an industry leader. There are only a few companies in the field, and major players will enter as the technology becomes more affordable.
Still, this is one of the most promising emerging technologies in the world. It's virtually certain that it'll become a staple of tech-savvy households in the years to come due to its utility.
This is just a heads-up. We're a year or two early - but now is when a smart investor puts their ear to the ground and begins figuring out who might lead this industry.
Pick the right company, and it's like getting in on Microsoft or Apple at the very beginning. We'll keep monitoring this exciting new technology - and, as leaders emerge, we'll be sure to keep you in the loop.
Until then, feel free to start imagining what you'd do with a printer that could create any 3D vision you've got. It's a powerful tool - and it'll be available sooner than you think.