The EuroMold trade show that just concluded is by far the most anticipated event of the year for 3-D printing. It's where 3-D printing companies show off their new product lineups for the coming year and the world gets a glimpse into the future of the industry. 3D Systems (NYSE:DDD) did not disappoint with its 12 new product announcements.
3-D printing, version 2.0
3D Systems' product announcements were built around the idea of bringing 3-D printing technology to the next level where it would go from being an application used mainly for prototyping to one that earns a place on the manufacturing floor. As you can imagine, the majority of announcements were geared toward catering to industrial customers and building out its presence on the manufacturing floor.
Imagine being able print a full-sized car dashboard as one piece, or a life-size model of a tiger in high enough detail to rival traditional CNC machining. With 3D Systems' new ProX 950 SLA 3-D printer not only is this possible, but it can produce these objects 10 times faster than the competition. SLA stands for stereolithography, a 3-D printing process that uses an ultraviolet sensitive liquid, which solidifies when exposed to ultraviolet light. In the ProX 950, there are two UV lasers to help speed up the layer-by-layer process. The end result is that a full-sized car dashboard can now be printed in just two days, when it used to take multiple weeks. That's an incredible leap.
What's more, the ProX 950 offers the widest range of SLA-capable materials, the largest print bed in its class, and wastes the least amount of materials. All in all, the ProX 950 is poised to be a hit in industrial circles looking to significantly improve their SLA speed, precision, capacity, capabilities, and overall awesomeness.
Laser light show
It wouldn't be a party unless 3D Systems busted out a slew of new SLS, or selective laser sintering printers for both metal, ceramic, and plastic applications. SLS involves using a laser to selectively heat and melt a bed of fine powder-based material layer by layer until an object is created. SLS is highly regarded for its strength, accuracy, and ability to print finished parts, making it a great candidate for demanding industrial applications, like, say, airplane engines.
In the SLS segment, 3D Systems introduced the ProX 500 SLS 3-D printer, and rebranded its Phenix Systems line of three metal and ceramic SLS printers to the ProX 100, ProX 200, and ProX 300, which are capable of producing fully dense parts.
What makes the ProX 500 unique is that can print stronger plastic parts seven times faster than competing printers, a printed part costs up to 40% less, and it can reuse 80% of its materials. Between the ProX 500's new innovative plastic material and the printer's improved resolution, printed parts rival the smoothness of injection molding. All said and done, this printer could be the perfect fit for manufacturers wishing to take advantage of just-in-time manufacturing.
The little details
For smaller jobs that require high-detail, 3D Systems introduced the ProJet 1200, a coffeemaker-sized, office-friendly, SLA printer aimed at jewelry makers and dental labs, and has the ability to make castable parts. With a price tag of $4,900, this 3-D printer could even land within striking distance of serious 3-D printing enthusiasts in the consumer space. Built for speed and ease of use, the ProJet 1200 can print up to five ring castings in two short hours.
So technically, the ProJet 4500 was announced the day before EuroMold kicked off, but it's definitely a 3-D printer worth writing about because it can print full-color plastic parts in nearly 1 million colors, pixel by pixel, which require no post processing. It's office-friendly, extremely efficient, and perfect for designers that want to bring their prototypes to life in full color to get a better sense of what the finished product will be like. In certain applications, it could even be used for making finished plastic parts.
The one we've been waiting for
With the introduction of 3D Systems' new ProJet 5500X, the future of 3-D printing just got a little more awesome. Until now, one of 3-D printing's biggest limitations has been its ability to print in different materials simultaneously. Thanks to an innovative new material, the ProJet 5500X can print pixel by pixel in differing strengths and flexibilities, in a range of monochrome shades.
The implications are staggering, because it paves the way for 3D Systems to create its "factory from the future" concept for Project Ara, a fully customizable modular smartphone project it's partnered with Google's own Motorola on. 3D Systems has been tasked with creating an advanced large-scale manufacturing platform capable of integrating multiple materials, including conductive ones, into its 3-D printing supply chain. The ProJet 5500X compliments Project Ara's goals, which holds the potential to ultimately revolutionize the entire manufacturing sector.
One giant leapfrog
Going into next year, 3D Systems has an extremely compelling portfolio of solutions aimed at the industrial segment. According to CEO Avi Reichental, "[The] cutting edge products we are launching today provide enormous value to our design and manufacturing customers, leapfrogs competitors, and extends our first-mover advantage in certain key verticals." I couldn't agree more.
At the end of the day, 3D Systems' newest products are extremely well positioned in the industry, and could easily take market share from competitors. This already established leader just reasserted its leadership. If you're a 3D Systems' shareholder, you should be thrilled about these announcements.
Fool contributor Steve Heller owns shares of Google and 3D Systems. The Motley Fool recommends 3D Systems and Google. The Motley Fool owns shares of 3D Systems and Google and has the following options: short January 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.