3D Systems Plans 50X Speed Increase for Google's Project Ara

Given the bruising 3D Systems' (NYSE: DDD  ) stock has taken this year, investors should surely welcome some good news. The largest 3-D printing company by market cap told analysts at its investor day event on Tuesday that it's on track in developing a continuous, high-speed 3-D printing manufacturing platform for Project Ara. This project involves a teaming with Google (NASDAQ: GOOG  )   (NASDAQ: GOOGL  ) to produce customizable, open-source, modular smartphones, and is expected to launch in 2015.

Project Ara is full speed(y) ahead
We knew 3D Systems was on schedule back in April, as it told analysts so during its first-quarter conference call, and it was what I considered to be one of the top takeaways from the call. The bigger news coming out of its investor day is that 3D Systems said that it expects the platform it's developing for Project Ara to be 50 times as fast as current systems.

Project Ara's modular smartphone components. Source: 3D Systems

How does 3D Systems plan to rev up speed this much? The company explained this in a blog post:

This methodology breaks away from the "reciprocating platform" of many contemporary 3D printers. "Reciprocating" refers to the coordinated motion of the print platform and the print head, leading to frequent acceleration and deceleration, which ultimately adds to the overall print time. For more productive print rates (of millions and hopefully billions of units), we're creating a continuous motion system around a racetrack architecture that will allow the module shells to move in a continuous flow with additional "off ramps" for various finishing steps, including inserts and other module manipulations.

Production speed is one of the primary factors holding 3-D printing back from moving beyond a technology used for prototyping and short-run production applications to one that's also used in mass manufacturing. So the super-speedy platform that 3D Systems is developing has the potential to significantly expand the use of 3-D printing.

Beyond Project Ara to other opportunities
Whether or not Google's Project Ara is successful shouldn't matter that much for 3D Systems. Sure, it would be great if folks snap up Google's modular phones in a manner akin to the original iPhone mania, as that would likely guarantee 3D Systems a longer-term partnering with the big G. 

Even if Ara flops, however, 3D Systems should win big if this platform functions very well. This is because after it completes the platform for Project Ara, 3D Systems plans to commercialize it for use in other manufacturing applications. CEO Avi Reichental said during 3D System's first quarter conference call that the company believes that its high-speed, continuous 3-D printing platform will "have wide applications into a variety of both industrial and consumer goods type manufacturing applications."

Remember, this is expected to be not only a fast platform, but also one that will be able to print in multimaterials. So this platform could be an absolute game-changer, and lead to 3-D printing disrupting mass manufacturing just as it has disrupted prototyping and, for certain applications, short-run production.

Speed: the current 3-D printing frontier
3D Systems isn't alone in working to break the speed barrier in 3-D printing. In February, privately held Cincinnati Inc. signed an agreement with the U.S. Department of Energy's Oak Ridge National Lab to develop a 3-D printer that is 200-500 times faster, and capable of printing polymer components 10 times larger, than most of today's 3-D printers. The team's goal is to speed up the commercialization of a new 3-D printing machine that can print large polymer parts faster and more cheaply than current technologies in order to "strengthen domestic manufacturing of highly advanced components for the automotive, aerospace, appliance, robotics and many other industries."

Cincinnati has already delivered its "alpha" big area additive manufacturing, or BAAM, machine to ORNL. In fact, the company displayed parts produced by this huge 3-D printer at RAPID, one of the premier trade shows for the 3-D printing industry, which just wrapped up on Thursday.

The good news for investors in 3D Systems is that the BAAM machine will only be able to print in polymers -- at least initially -- and will be used for large-scale applications. It has a giant build box size of about 6'7" by 13'1" by 2'10". So Cincinnati's machine won't present competition for 3D System's high-speed, continuous platform, as it doesn't have multimaterial-printing capabilities, and isn't suited to produce smaller items that have a higher level of detail. At this point, there doesn't appear to be any competition for the platform that 3-D Systems is developing, which could turn out to be terrific news for investors.

Are you ready for this $14.4 trillion revolution?
Have you ever dreamed of traveling back in time and telling your younger self to invest in Apple? Or to load up on at its IPO, and then just keep holding? We haven't mastered time travel, but there is a way to get out ahead of the next big thing. The secret is to find a small-cap "pure-play" and then watch as the industry -- and your company -- enjoy those same explosive returns. Our team of equity analysts has identified one stock that's ready for stunning profits with the growth of a $14.4 TRILLION industry. You can't travel back in time, but you can set up your future. Click here for the whole story in our eye-opening report.

Read/Post Comments (1) | Recommend This Article (5)

Comments from our Foolish Readers

Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On June 13, 2014, at 11:24 AM, ScottAtlanta wrote:

    Why not stationary object and "stationary" printer with multiple and perhaps rotating printer heads arcing round (as if they were on a figurative "bike chain)....vs. ONE that goes back and forth? Make out check to Jean E. Uss

Add your comment.

Sponsored Links

Leaked: Apple's Next Smart Device
(Warning, it may shock you)
The secret is out... experts are predicting 458 million of these types of devices will be sold per year. 1 hyper-growth company stands to rake in maximum profit - and it's NOT Apple. Show me Apple's new smart gizmo!

DocumentId: 2993311, ~/Articles/ArticleHandler.aspx, 9/1/2015 12:20:37 PM

Report This Comment

Use this area to report a comment that you believe is in violation of the community guidelines. Our team will review the entry and take any appropriate action.

Sending report...

Beth McKenna

Today's Market

updated Moments ago Sponsored by:
DOW 16,172.46 -355.57 -2.15%
S&P 500 1,929.38 -42.80 -2.17%
NASD 4,693.49 -83.02 -1.74%

Create My Watchlist

Go to My Watchlist

You don't seem to be following any stocks yet!

Better investing starts with a watchlist. Now you can create a personalized watchlist and get immediate access to the personalized information you need to make successful investing decisions.

Data delayed up to 5 minutes

Related Tickers

9/1/2015 12:05 PM
DDD $13.16 Down -0.57 -4.15%
3D Systems CAPS Rating: ****
GOOG $605.01 Down -13.25 -2.14%
Google (C shares) CAPS Rating: ****
GOOGL $636.21 Down -11.61 -1.79%
Google (A shares) CAPS Rating: ****