Yesterday, 3D Systems (NYSE:DDD) introduced the ProJet 4500, the world's first 3-D printer capable of printing multicolor plastic parts pixel by pixel -- in nearly 1 million colors. Printed objects from the 4500 won't require any post-processing, and the printer automatically recycles its own waste. The future of 3-D printing just got a little better.
Weighing in at 600 pounds, chances are high the 4500 isn't going to be affordable enough for individual use. However, it could be the perfect addition for the right industrial-type customer looking to save big on costs. No post-processing means the time and money spent on getting an object to final form could be spent elsewhere. A 3-D printing services company like Shapeways is the type of customer that could benefit from the efficiency gains built into the 4500.
Full speed ahead!
Given the nature of additive manufacturing, one of the biggest drawbacks about the process is that it's slow as molasses compared to conventional manufacturing methods. The ProJet 4500 is no different -- it can vertically print at the blistering speed of eight millimeters per hour, which represents an improvement of speed that is two to five times faster than competing printers. While this is certainly a big improvement, the real-world speed of 3-D printing still can't compete with large-scale conventional manufacturing processes.
3D Systems continues to establish itself as a leading innovator in the 3-D printing space. The ProJet 4500 is yet another example of how the company remains many steps ahead of the competition, and also gives investors a better sense about the future potential of 3-D printing.
Ultimately, 3D Systems hopes to create a "factory from the future," which incorporates 3-D printing technology with other rapid manufacturing processes in order to build fully customizable smartphones and components. Of course, we're many years away from this reality, but at the end of the day, 3D Systems continues to demonstrate that it's a driving force of rapid change in the 3-D printing space.
Fool contributor Steve Heller owns shares of 3D Systems. The Motley Fool recommends 3D Systems. The Motley Fool owns shares of 3D Systems and has the following options: short January 2014 $20 puts on 3D Systems. 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.