How Walt Disney Is Using 3-D Printing

3-D printing isn't just for industrial companies. Entertainment giant Disney is also using this technology.

Apr 6, 2014 at 5:00PM

It's fairly well known that big name industrial companies such as General Electric are embracing 3-D printing. It seems much lesser known, however, that entertainment giant Walt Disney (NYSE:DIS) has also been investing considerable resources into using current 3-D printing technology, as well as developing its own tech.

We'll focus on Disney's use of current 3-D printing technology here, while a second article will home in on "Papillion," which is the really cool 3-D printing technology Disney is developing that has potentially vast applications. 

Staying ahead of the technological curve -- again
Disney has been involved in 3-D printing for many years -- well before the technology became "hot" within the past couple of years. This isn't surprising, as staying ahead of the technological curve is one of the core pillars upon which Disney has build its massively successful empire, and richly rewarded shareholders along the way. Not only has Disney's stock been firing on all cylinders recently -- it returned more than 41% in the past year versus the market's nearly 23% -- it's also crushed the market's returns over the 10-year period, returning 249% to the market's 99%.

We should expect to see the world's largest media company's involvement in 3-D printing expand and deepen. Last fall, Disney Chairman Andy Bird said at a media summit: "I think every home within 10 years -- probably less than that -- will have its own 3-D printer, just as many homes now have a 2-D or laser printer." When a chair of a company believes such a thing, you can be sure that company is focusing on how it can best position itself to capitalize on such a scenario.

3-D printing as a tool to collaborate with consumers
Disney has largely been using 3-D printing in a different manner and, thus far, with a different end goal from that of most manufacturers, which makes sense given Disney occupies an entirely different business.

Manufacturers have largely been using 3-D printing in their prototyping, though an increasing number continue to expand their use to include production applications. The goals are straightforward: Decrease the new product cycle time, increase innovation (because some product designs can't be made using traditionally manufacturing techniques), and increase production efficiency.

Meanwhile, Disney -- as well as select other consumer-focused companies -- has been using 3-D printing as a tool to "involve loyalists in the production process, therefore bridging the gap between consumer and company," as well put by iMediaConnection. Essentially, the consumer becomes a participant with the company, rather than being the "target" of marketing efforts by the company. This is an important distinction, especially among the many folks who view much of what passes as "target marketing" as rather offensive. 

Here are two examples of how Disney recently used 3-D printing at its theme parks:

2012: Disney introduced its "Carbon-Freeze Me" experience

Visitors to Disney's theme parks in the summer of 2012 could have their likenesses put onto Han Solo's body in the famous carbon freezing scene from The Empire Strikes Back, the second of the Star Wars films to be released. The soon-to-be-immortalized in a famous movie scene visitor was scanned and the final product was 3-D printed and mailed to his/her home. Importantly, the process only involved about 10 minutes of the consumer's time.

2013: Disney goes for an encore -- visitors can become Stormtroopers

Disney Article Stormtroopers

Source: Disney Store. If you look good in white, you might have missed your chance to be a Stormtrooper!

The process was the same here, with the visitor's mug now being put on to a 7.5-inch Stormtooper figurine. The $99.95 price tag would seem high to most of us, though I'm sure many of the Star Wars fanatics out there didn't blink an eye.

If Disney had enough takers for these offerings, I'd imagine they likely turned a profit. However, I'd guess the company would have deemed their efforts "successful" even if these offerings just broke even. That's because these "experiences" – Disney's word, not mine, and it's an important distinction from "products" -- surely generated warm and fuzzy feelings about Disney in the minds of many of the folks who now have Star Wars' characters figurines with their likenesses on them adorning their homes. Further, participating in such an "experience" certainly strengthened many of these people's positives feelings about Star Wars, likely making some of them more apt to spend money on additional Star Wars offerings in the future.

Given Disney's immense collection of well-loved characters, can you see the possibilities? People with 3-D scanners and printers in their homes will surely be able to license the rights to print such figurines in the future. The possibilities go way beyond these figurines to include toys, piggy banks, etc. based on Disney characters. (This scenario also illustrates why some companies are apprehensive about consumers having 3-D printers in their homes, as "character piracy" becomes more of a potential issue.)

Foolish final thoughts
Investors who need yet another reason to view Disney as a solid long-term investment can add its staying ahead of the curve with respect to 3-D printing technology to the list.

Disney isn't the only "own forever" stock; here are 3 more
As every savvy investor knows, Warren Buffett didn't make billions by betting on half-baked stocks. He isolated his best few ideas, bet big, and rode them to riches, hardly ever selling. You deserve the same. That's why our CEO, legendary investor Tom Gardner, has permitted us to reveal The Motley Fool's 3 Stocks to Own Forever. These picks are free today! Just click here now to uncover the three companies we love. 


Beth McKenna has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends and owns shares of Walt Disney. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools don't 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.

4 in 5 Americans Are Ignoring Buffett's Warning

Don't be one of them.

Jun 12, 2015 at 5:01PM

Admitting fear is difficult.

So you can imagine how shocked I was to find out Warren Buffett recently told a select number of investors about the cutting-edge technology that's keeping him awake at night.

This past May, The Motley Fool sent 8 of its best stock analysts to Omaha, Nebraska to attend the Berkshire Hathaway annual shareholder meeting. CEO Warren Buffett and Vice Chairman Charlie Munger fielded questions for nearly 6 hours.
The catch was: Attendees weren't allowed to record any of it. No audio. No video. 

Our team of analysts wrote down every single word Buffett and Munger uttered. Over 16,000 words. But only two words stood out to me as I read the detailed transcript of the event: "Real threat."

That's how Buffett responded when asked about this emerging market that is already expected to be worth more than $2 trillion in the U.S. alone. Google has already put some of its best engineers behind the technology powering this trend. 

The amazing thing is, while Buffett may be nervous, the rest of us can invest in this new industry BEFORE the old money realizes what hit them.

KPMG advises we're "on the cusp of revolutionary change" coming much "sooner than you think."

Even one legendary MIT professor had to recant his position that the technology was "beyond the capability of computer science." (He recently confessed to The Wall Street Journal that he's now a believer and amazed "how quickly this technology caught on.")

Yet according to one J.D. Power and Associates survey, only 1 in 5 Americans are even interested in this technology, much less ready to invest in it. Needless to say, you haven't missed your window of opportunity. 

Think about how many amazing technologies you've watched soar to new heights while you kick yourself thinking, "I knew about that technology before everyone was talking about it, but I just sat on my hands." 

Don't let that happen again. This time, it should be your family telling you, "I can't believe you knew about and invested in that technology so early on."

That's why I hope you take just a few minutes to access the exclusive research our team of analysts has put together on this industry and the one stock positioned to capitalize on this major shift.

Click here to learn about this incredible technology before Buffett stops being scared and starts buying!

David Hanson owns shares of Berkshire Hathaway and American Express. The Motley Fool recommends and owns shares of Berkshire Hathaway, Google, and Coca-Cola.We Fools don't 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.

©1995-2014 The Motley Fool. All rights reserved. | Privacy/Legal Information