For 3-D printing to become more competitive against traditional manufacturing, the technology has to vastly improve in terms of speed and smoothness. It can take anywhere from hours to days for a single object to be 3-D printed, putting it's at a serious disadvantage against a traditional manufacturing process like injection molding, which can easily produce thousands of parts in a day. Additionally, 3-D printing is an additive manufacturing process, meaning it produces objects in a layer by layer fashion, which can create a "stair casing" effect where you can see ridges in the finished object.
Compared to the smoothness that consumers have grown accustomed to with injection molded parts, 3-D printed parts often come off as cheap looking. In order to address the issue of smoothness, companies like Stratasys (NASDAQ:SSYS) offer high resolution printers that reduces the thickness of each layer. Stratasys' recently announced full-color multi-material Objet500 Connex3 can print in layers as thin as 16 microns.
Beyond Stratasys, Hewlett-Packard (NYSE:HPQ) has plans to enter the 3-D printing space with a printer that emphasizes speed and overall part smoothness. Earmarked for the professional service center, Hewlett-Packard hopes its competitively priced 3-D printer will attract some attention in the crowded market place.
In the following video, 3-D printing analyst Steve Heller gives investors an overview of where 3-D printing falls far behind traditional manufacturing.
Steve Heller has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends Ford and Stratasys. The Motley Fool owns shares of Ford and Stratasys. 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.