Stratasys (NASDAQ:SSYS)3D Systems (NYSE:DDD), and most other 3-D printing companies offer 3-D printing services to customers because it's a great way to increase product awareness in a highly profitable manner. The 3-D printing service center allows designers to quickly get parts prototyped or manufactured on a smaller scale without ever needing 3-D printing experience themselves. For Stratasys and 3D Systems, the hope is that a percentage of service center customers will eventually buy their respective 3-D printers and consume those highly profitable materials that come along with ownership. Stratasys operates its RedEye service center and 3D Systems operates Quickparts.

With all the competition in the 3-D printing service center space, the technical expertise of the service center often becomes a key differentiator. In the following video, 3-D printing analyst Steve Heller sits down with Rich Stump of FATHOM, a highly experienced Stratasys reseller and 3-D printing service center, to better understand how a boutique firm like FATHOM successfully competes against bigger industry players like Stratasys and 3D Systems. Going forward, 3D Systems and Stratasys investors should watch how they continue to build out their services in ways that differentiate and drive more value to customers.

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Steve Heller owns shares of 3D Systems and Proto Labs. The Motley Fool recommends and owns shares of 3D Systems, Proto Labs, 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.