2 Key Takeaways From the Inside 3-D Printing Conference

The use case for consumer 3-D printers is still lacking, and the threat of commoditization is very real.

May 6, 2014 at 1:45PM

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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Blake Bos has no position in any stocks mentioned. Steve Heller owns shares of 3D Systems. The Motley Fool recommends and owns shares of 3D Systems 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.

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.

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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.

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