The 3-D printing industry experts over at tct Mag recently reported that Arcam AB (NASDAQOTH:AMAVF) has launched its new Q20 printer at EuroMold 2013. Euromold is one of 3-D printing's biggest annual trade shows, and where companies typically make their big announcements. The new printer from Arcam is definitely a big announcement, and looks to compete with other powder bed fusion printers from the likes of 3D Systems (NYSE:DDD) and EOS.
Future battle: Lasers versus electron beams
This printer represents Arcam's third generation of electron beam melting (EBM) printers, and is basically a larger version of the recently released Q10. The larger Q20 will be marketed toward the $630 billion aerospace market, and could mark the beginning of a future technology battle between laser and electron beam melting machines in metal printing production applications.
Right now, selective laser melting (SLM) machines from 3D Systems and EOS are receiving their fair share of media attention due to General Electric's (NYSE:GE) objective to use the technology to print thousands of fuel nozzles for the upcoming LEAP engine. But in the distant future, large-scale manufacturing of parts will require speed, and that's where EBM has a leg up.
My electron beam hates your laser's mirror
Arcam's EBM tech isn't as far into development as the SLM tech from EOS and 3D Systems, but EBM is theoretically better suited toward high-speed manufacturing. This is due to the absence of moving parts, like the mirrors used to deflect lasers in SLM machines.
Think of SLM as a mechanical hard drive in a computer, and EBM as a solid-state drive. The old mechanical drives are becoming extinct because they got to the point where they met the threshold between speed and mechanical failure. The challenge to build parts faster with SLM is what General Electric is tackling today, but the fuel nozzles are still a relatively small production run compared with traditional large-scale manufacturing. The Q10 and Q20 will be used to further develop EBM technology so it can use its inherent speed advantage to tackle the task of making high-quantity production runs.
Whether or not this inherent speed advantage is worth paying nearly 22 times price to sales for Arcam's stock remains to be seen, but investors should keep an eye on printer sales to make sure they're accelerating. The first Q20 is already sold, but you want to see more companies purchasing these so EBM development gets pushed along faster. Keep in mind that Arcam won't be able to develop this technology quickly, and a successful investment in this company will require time, patience, and a very long time horizon filled with fortunate events.
In the video below, Motley Fool analyst Blake Bos breaks down the Q20 in an easy-to-understand way, and further explains the differences between SLS and EBM technologies.
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