The public continues to be amazed by the kinds of items that 3-D printers are able to create, at a fraction of the cost of typical production, such as prosthetic limbs and parts for spacecraft. Still, 3-D printing has not had much of an effect on the everyday consumer, because neither the machines nor their printed products have had much of a presence in our daily lives. What will take 3-D printing to the next level is to make the printers more of an individual consumer product. 3-D printer companies are already working on building smaller and more affordable units. Meanwhile, other non-maker companies are preparing for 3-D printing growth as well.
One company that is proving to be an innovator in the printer-making space is 3D Systems (NYSE: DDD ) . With the release of the Cube printer, consumers can have their own 3-D printer at home, starting at around $1300. While 3D Systems' stock price has been shaky in the last few months (including a sell-off in November and another dip the last two weeks), shares have still increased over 73% in the last year, but the stock's P/E multiple of 172 may scare value-focused investors away. Another option to gain from 3-D printing growth is through companies that aren't making the machines, but are preparing their own products for the growth of 3-D printing. Here are three companies doing that now.
The Hershey Company (NYSE: HSY ) has reported that they are planning to team up with 3D Systems to bring printable candy to consumers homes. Hershey has a history of innovation, and was ranked No. 28 on the Forbes list of most innovative companies in 2013. William Papa, Hershey's vice president and chief R&D officer said, "We believe that innovation is key to delivering relevant, compelling consumer experiences with our iconic brands. ... Whether it's creating a whole new form of candy or developing a new way to produce it, we embrace new technologies such as 3D printing as a way to keep moving our timeless confectionery treats into the future."
Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT ) has created the first operating system which would allow for 3-D printing to be a native element with its latest OS update, Windows 8.1. The company has gone even further by creating an app for the everyday consumer to be able to utilize 3-D printing as well. Making 3-D printing so easy that the average consumer can do it is sure to be a key component of Microsoft's 3-D strategy. That way, the company will be able to profit from this rising tech trend, without changing its core business.
Adobe Systems (NASDAQ: ADBE ) is another tech company that is making 3-D printing easy. With the latest update to the company's well-known Photoshop program, Adobe has introduced the ability for users to print directly from the application with a 3-D printer. Graphic artists, inventors, product designers, or any other professional that uses design or creates products, can now print directly from the program in many different materials, such as ceramics, metals, and full-color sandstone.
Foolish takeaway: 3-D printing growth is not just for the machine makers
The companies that have received the most press about 3-D printing are companies like 3D Systems that actually build the printers. However, these companies are not the only ones innovating in the 3-D printing space and preparing for its continued growth. Like the examples above, other companies are in a position to win from this growing industry. Because the 3-D printer companies are trading at such high multiples, betting on some of these other companies might be the best way to make a value play in the 3-D printing industry.
More tech that promises to change the world
3-D printing is amazing, and sure to change the consumer product game in a big way over the next few years, But it is not the only technological innovation changing the world. Wearable computing is also sure to shake things up and just wait until you see this. 100 of Apple's top engineers are busy building one in a secret lab. And an ABI Research report predicts 485 million of them could be sold over the next decade. But you can invest in it right now... for just a fraction of the price of AAPL stock. Click here to get the full story in this eye-opening new report.