Between Shapeways, 3D Systems (NYSE:DDD), Stratasys (NASDAQ:SSYS), and now Proto Labs, it's safe to say that the 3-D printing as a service space is becoming increasingly crowded. Although manufacturing expertise can be certainly act as a key selling point between competitors, speed is also an area where 3-D printing service centers can out-muscle the competition. French-based Sculpteo thinks its fast turnaround times will help differentiate it from competing services.

On average, Sculpteo can turn a 3-D model into a 3-D printed object for its customers within eight days, but in certain instances, it can fulfill orders within five days. Shapeways, which focuses on providing consumers with professionally 3-D printed objects, aims to get prints out the door in six to 15 days, with shipping taking an additional one to eight business days. Sculpteo is more focused on the business market, with its ideal customer being a small business that needs to rapidly iterate a prototype, make product improvements, and bring said product to market as quickly and affordably as possible. Ultimately, Sculpteo and competing rapid prototyping services are playing to the strength of 3-D printing, which allows prototypes to be made quickly and affordably. This fundamental strength has brought 3D Systems and Stratasys greater fortune in recent years, and it has certainly been a boon to their stock long-term prices.

DDD Chart

DDD data by YCharts.

While 3D Systems' and Stratasys' competing professional 3-D printing services don't readily advertise 3-D printing lead times, both companies certainly have their share of expertise with 3-D printing as a manufacturing medium, not to mention they have an opportunity to sell their 3-D printing products to companies like Sculpteo that are working to define the segment. At the end of the day, the name of the game for 3D Systems and Stratasys is to sell as many 3-D printers as possible, so it creates an opportunity to generate a highly profitable stream of recurring revenues through the sale of proprietary materials over the lives of their printers.

In the following video, 3-D printing specialist Steve Heller asks Kristen Turner, director of U.S. marketing at Sculpteo, how it differentiates itself in the crowded 3-D printing service space. Going forward, 3D Systems and Stratasys investors should continue to monitor developments out of the 3-D printing as a service space to get a better understanding of which technologies -- and therefore companies -- are most favored.

Three must-own 3-D printing stocks
The Economist compares this disruptive invention to the steam engine and the printing press. Business Insider says it's "the next trillion-dollar industry." And everyone from BMW, to Nike, to the U.S. Air Force is already using it every day. Watch The Motley Fool's shocking video presentation today to discover the garage gadget that's putting an end to the Made In China era... and learn the investing strategy we've used to double our money on these 3 stocks. Click here to watch now!

Steve Heller owns shares of 3D Systems. The Motley Fool recommends 3D Systems and Stratasys. The Motley Fool 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.

Compare Brokers