3D printing was stealing headlines across the board a few years ago, and speculation was buzzing that society wasn't too far off from a 3D printer in every home. And oh, how the mighty have fallen -- as anyone who bought into the consumer-facing 3D printing companies at their peak will, painfully, know.
In this segment from the Industry Focus: Tech podcast, Motley Fool analysts talk about the current state of 3D printing, and how investors might want to approach buying into the technology now, after the hype has settled down.
A full transcript follows the video.
This video was recorded on Jan. 19, 2018.
Dylan Lewis: Another category similar to Kevin Plank's mea culpa, where they said, "We got a little overly ambitious and maybe saw a little bit more opportunity than there actually was," you think about that on the consumer side, and on the investor side with 3D printing. And people thinking about what this market might look like, and having to come to the realization over the past couple of years that either it's going to take a while or maybe it's not quite as big as people expected. What were your takeaways on 3D printing from CES?
David Kretzmann: There was very little presence of 3D printing. You had a few booths. But most of the 3D printing booths that were there, they were basically just printing tchotchkes, stuff that you're not going to need. Maybe little figurines or utensils, but nothing that's really groundbreaking, certainly on a consumer level. 3D printing has bigger applications today than it has in the past with manufacturing or commercial uses. If you're in a factory or some larger-scale manufacturing facility, a 3D printer can make sense. But I guess it was about three years ago, we had Matt Argersinger and some other Fools out at CES, and that's when 3D printing was the dominant theme at CES. Matt, to his credit, was basically scratching his head, thinking, "You know, I think this could be a top." And almost to the week, it turned out to be the peak of Stratasys and 3D Systems which, for a year or two, the stocks had been on an absolute tear. This year, 3D Systems and Stratasys didn't even have a booth signed up at CES, or private meeting rooms. That kind of tells you, again, what's happening in that category.
Lewis: Yeah, I think both of those stocks are trading around 80% down from where they were in their peaks in 2014.
Kretzmann: Very painful.
Lewis: And I know a lot of Fools follow those companies, so it has to be kind of tough. Philosophically, thinking about the 3D printing space, what is the better way to approach it? I think there were these thoughts at some point that everyone will have a 3D printer in their house. That was the illogical extreme that things got taken to. What is more realistically how people should be thinking about this space? What does that look like?
Kretzmann: I think we're still a ways off from a time where there's really a consumer need or desire for a 3D printer. Several years ago, you had people making some serious arguments that Amazon should be worried, or Amazon could be disrupted in a few years, because if every consumer had a 3D printer in their house, they upload the dimensions for whatever product they want, and they print it out in their home. What role does Amazon play in that world? I think that's a way off, if it even happens. But I think the opportunity, similar to what I said earlier, is in that commercial or manufacturing space. I think that's where you see companies continue to make orders and build a market for 3D printers. Even 3D Systems or Stratasys, those are companies I haven't followed as closely lately, but I think they're shifting more toward that manufacturing side of the equation rather than the consumer market with things like MakerBot. You have a company like Proto Labs, which is not completely a 3D printing company, they do more rapid prototyping. They're a company, if you're an inventor developing a product, you can basically send the design to Proto Labs; they'll make a small batch of prototypes for you and ship it out. So they have some similarities with 3D printing. That was a company that was really dragged down the last couple of years, along with the rest of the 3D printing space. But since then, the stock has had a huge resurgence, and I think it's at an all-time highs now. So I would focus more on companies on that end of the spectrum, and not so much companies going after the consumer market, because I think that's a way off.
John Mackey, CEO of Whole Foods Market, an Amazon subsidiary, is a member of The Motley Fool's board of directors. David Kretzmann owns shares of 3D Systems, Amazon, and Proto Labs. Dylan Lewis owns shares of Amazon. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Amazon and Proto Labs. The Motley Fool recommends 3D Systems and Stratasys. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.