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

3D Systems' high-speed, continuous 3-D printing platform could be a game-changer.

Jun 13, 2014 at 10:01AM

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 Amazon.com 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.

Beth McKenna has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends 3D Systems and Google (C shares). The Motley Fool owns shares of 3D Systems and Google (C shares). 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.

1 Key Step to Get Rich

Our mission at The Motley Fool is to help the world invest better. Whether that’s helping people overcome their fear of stocks all the way to offering clear and successful guidance on complicated-sounding options trades, we can help.

Feb 1, 2016 at 4:54PM

To be perfectly clear, this is not a get-rich action that my Foolish colleagues and I came up with. But we wouldn't argue with the approach.

A 2015 Business Insider article titled, "11 websites to bookmark if you want to get rich" rated The Motley Fool as the #1 place online to get smarter about investing.

"The Motley Fool aims to build a strong investment community, which it does by providing a variety of resources: the website, books, a newspaper column, a radio [show], and [newsletters]," wrote (the clearly insightful and talented) money reporter Kathleen Elkins. "This site has something for every type of investor, from basic lessons for beginners to investing commentary on mutual funds, stock sectors, and value for the more advanced."

Our mission at The Motley Fool is to help the world invest better, so it's nice to receive that kind of recognition. It lets us know we're doing our job.

Whether that's helping the entirely uninitiated overcome their fear of stocks all the way to offering clear and successful guidance on complicated-sounding options trades, we want to provide our readers with a boost to the next step on their journey to financial independence.

Articles and beyond

As Business Insider wrote, there are a number of resources available from the Fool for investors of all levels and styles.

In addition to the dozens of free articles we publish every day on our website, I want to highlight two must-see spots in your tour of fool.com.

For the beginning investor

Investing can seem like a Big Deal to those who have yet to buy their first stock. Many investment professionals try to infuse the conversation with jargon in order to deter individual investors from tackling it on their own (and to justify their often sky-high fees).

But the individual investor can beat the market. The real secret to investing is that it doesn't take tons of money, endless hours, or super-secret formulas that only experts possess.

That's why we created a best-selling guide that walks investors-to-be through everything they need to know to get started. And because we're so dedicated to our mission, we've made that available for free.

If you're just starting out (or want to help out someone who is), go to www.fool.com/beginners, drop in your email address, and you'll be able to instantly access the quick-read guide ... for free.

For the listener

Whether it's on the stationary exercise bike or during my daily commute, I spend a lot of time going nowhere. But I've found a way to make that time benefit me.

The Motley Fool offers five podcasts that I refer to as "binge-worthy financial information."

Motley Fool Money features a team of our analysts discussing the week's top business and investing stories, interviews, and an inside look at the stocks on our radar. It's also featured on several dozen radio stations across the country.

The hosts of Motley Fool Answers challenge the conventional wisdom on life's biggest financial issues to reveal what you really need to know to make smart money moves.

David Gardner, co-founder of The Motley Fool, is among the most respected and trusted sources on investing. And he's the host of Rule Breaker Investing, in which he shares his insights into today's most innovative and disruptive companies ... and how to profit from them.

Market Foolery is our daily look at stocks in the news, as well as the top business and investing stories.

And Industry Focus offers a deeper dive into a specific industry and the stories making headlines. Healthcare, technology, energy, consumer goods, and other industries take turns in the spotlight.

They're all informative, entertaining, and eminently listenable ... and I don't say that simply because the hosts all sit within a Nerf-gun shot of my desk. Rule Breaker Investing and Answers contain timeless advice, so you might want to go back to the beginning with those. The other three take their cues from the market, so you'll want to listen to the most recent first. All are available at www.fool.com/podcasts.

But wait, there's more

The book and the podcasts – both free ... both awesome – also come with an ongoing benefit. If you download the book, or if you enter your email address in the magical box at the podcasts page, you'll get ongoing market coverage sent straight to your inbox.

Investor Insights is valuable and enjoyable coverage of everything from macroeconomic events to investing strategies to our analyst's travels around the world to find the next big thing. Also free.

Get the book. Listen to a podcast. Sign up for Investor Insights. I'm not saying that any of those things will make you rich ... but Business Insider seems to think so.

Compare Brokers