3D Printing Stocks: Should You Invest?

Although the economy is still in bad shape and many people are skittish about investing, there are still commodities and futures that those in the know are willing to gamble on. The price of gold has been doing well over the past couple of years, so a lot of people are still putting their money into bullion.

And the technology of all forms also seems to be on the rise. Hence, companies that focus on computing (and even green innovation) are also a target for investors looking to diversify. Along those lines, there seems to be a relatively new player in town. And the name of the game is 3D printing. But what makes stock in this business so special, and why should you consider banking on it?

What’s 3d printing?

If you don’t know what 3D printing is, you’re about to go down the rabbit hole. Remember the replicators in Star Trek that produced any kind of food or drink on demand (except when they were on the fritz)? 3D printing is sort of like that; only it works to manufacture products, not food.

3D Printing Stocks: Should You Invest?

Users simply input a 3D image, select the material they want the end product to be composed of, and hit print (more or less). What happens next is nothing short of amazing.

While most products these days are assembled piece by piece or made from molds, the process of 3D printing builds your desired object layer by layer with whatever material you choose. However, there are only limited options for materials at this point. The result is an actual, physical, 3-dimensional object that was “printed” from an image.

Personal use?

You might be wondering when you can get one of these fantastic machines for personal use, and the answer is now. Of course, it will cost you. This concept is still in the beginning stages, which means it has thus far been geared towards industry rather than the consumer market.

For example, dentists are using it to create crowns (apparently cranking out as many as 450 a day, when they could only create about a dozen by the traditional method). It has also been picked up by aerospace (EADS) for use in producing aircraft components, and instrument manufacturers have even tapped this incredible tool to make composite violin parts.

Of course, the industrial versions of these printers could run in the tens of thousands of dollars (like the HP Designjet Color 3D Printer for $20,000). But even now, there are consumer models for sale.

The MakerBot Replicator will run you $1,749, but with additional software download, you can create any object you have a 3D image of. And 3D Systems (which currently has about 1,000 patents in the works) offers the Cube for $1,299 (not including the cost of additional materials), complete with a bevy of useful objects that can be created (chess pieces, phone protectors, etc.).

Industrial models are there too

Both of these use plastics and created only small objects, but larger industrial models could use anything from metals (and alloys) to resins to paper for the layering process.

So let’s get back to our original question. Should you invest in this hot stock? Pundits are speculating that soon every home will have its 3D printer, much like everyone now has a 2D laser printer. And the technology is moving forward fairly rapidly, signaling that these machines may soon be more widely available (not to mention affordable).

Like all consumer products, success or failure depends on the whim of the public. But consider this: if someone had told you 40 years ago that you should buy stock in IBM or Apple because everyone would soon have personal computers and portable music players, you might have laughed in their faces.

This technology has the potential to go the same way. Of course, it could also be Betamax. You’re going to have to decide. Here’s an awesome article on getting rid of a timeshare.