3D Printing Companies Receive Increased Exposure

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The president and CEO of 3D Systems (NYSE: DDD) says the 3D-printed gun that was made earlier this year shows off the possibilities of the industry.

3D printing companies have faced backlash from individuals and focus groups over the anticipated ability of people to print weapons on 3D printers. But according to 3D Systems' president, Avi Reichental, the 3D-printed gun democratizes craftsmanship by showing what can be achieved. For example, a South African inventor used a 3D printer to create a robotic hand after he lost his in a woodworking accident. Since then, the same design has been used to replace fingers on four children in his area.

While the debate about whether 3D-printed guns can be controlled is still uncertain, Reichantal is correct in saying the gun has shown the world what the printer can do. That could come as a relief to investors in 3D printing who were concerned that over-regulation could stall the printers' entry into most homes. Since the time the 3D-printed gun was shown to the public in May, shares of 3D Systems have shot up by about 15%. 

The extra attention 3D Systems, and the industry as a whole, have recently received is convincing many that 3D printing isn't all hype. Sales at 3D Systems have increased by an average of about 47% in each of the last three years. And now that some Staples stores are carrying the "Cube," I expect sales to skyrocket this year. I don't expect that substantial increase to make a dent until the third quarter, as Staples wasn't expected to begin sales until the end of June.

Stratasys among other 3D printing giants

While 3D Systems has the most affordable printer ($1,300) that is available for mass consumption via Staples, Stratasys (NASDAQ: SSYS) and ExOne (NASDAQ: XONE) are also positioned to profit from the booming industry.

Stratasys is making moves

When Stratasys acquired Objet in April 2012, it was a game-changer for the company, as it made the firm the largest manufacturer of 3D printing equipment for the professional market. The Makerbot acquisition in June puts Stratasys in a better position to sell a more affordable printer to the general public. This creates more competition for 3D Systems. The firm's lowest-priced printer sells for $9,900, which is too high for the consumer market. Makerbot generated about $50 million in sales last year to the market, so it will be interesting to see what the acquisition can bring to Stratasys, and I suspect that due to the recent acquisition, the firm will be able to release a more affordable printer in the months ahead.

ExOne still uncertain

Much uncertainty surrounds ExOne, but the company has established itself as a top three contender for market share in the 3D printing industry. The company went public in February, but doesn't yet appear to be in a position to profit form the consumer market. Currently, the firm largely caters to aerospace, automakers and heavy-equipment industries. The firm has increased sales of $13 million in 2010 to $29 million last year. And the CEO is confident sales will continue to boom. Kent Rockwell said in April that he expects the company to realize a 50% gross margin in the next three years. That's a bold statement, considering the company hasn't realized an annual profit in the last three years that it has reported earnings.

Where 3D printing is going

The 3D printing industry is certainly gaining much hype. And even though the 3D-printed gun may appear to have generated negative attention, it only acts as a tangible representation to show the gadgets' capabilities. As more designs make headlines, the 3D printing industry will continue to grow, and once the price for the average printer decreases further, the printers could turn up in most homes throughout the developed world.


Phillip Woolgar owns shares of 3D Systems. The Motley Fool recommends 3D Systems, Stratasys, and The ExOne Company. The Motley Fool owns shares of 3D Systems and Stratasys and has the following options: Short Jan 2014 $36 Calls on 3D Systems and Short Jan 2014 $20 Puts on 3D Systems. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy. Is this post wrong? Click here. Think you can do better? Join us and write your own!

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