2 Key Takeaways From the Inside 3-D Printing Conference

Last month, the Fool's 3-D printing specialist Steve Heller and industrials bureau chief Blake Bos attended the Inside 3-D Printing Conference in New York City to get a better sense of the latest developments in the 3-D printing industry. Steve and Blake came away from the first day of the conference with the sense that the use cases for consumer 3-D printers are still lacking, and the threat of commoditization in the form of pricing pressure is definitely something 3D Systems (NYSE: DDD  ) and Stratasys (NASDAQ: SSYS  ) investors should monitor going forward.

Although there was a strong showing of consumer 3-D printers from a host of different companies, it's still unclear why everyday consumers would want to add 3-D printing to their lifestyles. Once the novelty of 3-D printing plastic objects on a machine that can cost anywhere from several hundred to a few thousand dollars wears off, it's a pretty tough sell for everyday consumers, especially for those without children. Still, this hasn't stopped 3D Systems, Stratasys, and entrant XYZprinting to introduce new offerings.

3D Systems is focused on ease of use with the Cube 3 printer, which will cost less than $1,000 when it ships later this year. Stratasys updated replicator printers are aimed at the serious 3-D printing enthusiast and engineers that want a desktop device to affordably make models and early-stage prototypes. XYZprinting has made its $849 Da Vinci 2.1 Duo Plus core strength ease of use and reliability, for a cost less than 3D Systems' Cube 3.

Although it's unclear which company will ultimately become the dominant name in consumer 3-D printing, it's becoming quite clear that the consumer 3-D printing space is getting increasingly crowded and the businesses involved will likely face greater pricing pressures in the years ahead. The Micro, a Kickstarter-funded 3-D printer has raised more than $3.2 million for its $299 consumer offering, 64 times its original $50,000 goal. In comparison, 3D Systems' consumer segment generated $9.7 million in revenue during the first-quarter 2014, an unimpressive figure, considering its consumer-oriented 3-D printers sold during the quarter cost anywhere between $1,299 and $3,999. Clearly, the use case for a $299 printer doesn't need to be as well defined in the minds of consumers as it does for much pricier machines.

Investors should keep in mind that pricing pressure in the consumer segment may lead to profitability headwinds for 3D Systems and Stratasys, but over the long term, the hope is that it can be more than offset through the sale of highly profitable materials, which can generate a steady stream of recurring revenues for years after a printer is sold. Going forward, investors should think of the 3-D printing business as a glorified razor-and-blade model, and a larger installed base of printers leads to a greater potential for materials to be consumed.

In the following video, Steve and Blake break down the latest developments that came to light at the Inside 3-D Printing Conference.

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