Forgot to order that fashionable phone case for your best friend's birthday? If you own one of 3D Systems' (NYSE:DDD) desktop printers, don't worry about it; just find the specs for a similar case and print it at home.
Even if you haven't realized it yet, this is the new reality of printing. It's called 3-D printing -- and industry leader 3D Systems has already worked the prices for its consumer printers down to $999.
3-D printing technology isn't new. In fact, it's been around since the 1980s. But recently there has been a clear and irrefutable shift in the sentiment toward the industry's potential. Now it's inevitable: 3-D printing will be a major part of the future.
Best of all, there are clear beneficiaries to this trend, giving investors an opportunity to cash in on the revolution. One of my favorites? 3D Systems. Boasting the broadest portfolio of 3-D printers among its peers, this leader looks poised to ride the revolution.
What exactly is 3-D printing?
It's incredibly simple. In fact, it's the simplicity of the technology that makes its eventual mass adoption seem more certain than speculative.
Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAffee, authors of The Second Machine Age: Work, Progress, and Prosperity in a Time of Brilliant Technologies, boil the new technology down to its simplest form: "3D printing, also sometimes called "additive manufacturing," takes advantage of the way computer printers work: they deposit a very thin layer of material (ink, traditionally) on a base (paper) in a pattern determined by the computer." The biggest difference, of course, is that "Instead of just putting ink on paper, they are making complicated three-dimensional parts out of plastic, metal, and other materials." It's like an act "straight out of science fiction," the authors explain.
The simplicity of the technology means it's broadly applicable. Even better, however, it reduces time and cost while increasing efficiency and effectiveness. The name itself, "additive manufacturing," is indicative of the enormous amount of waste this form of 3-D printing saves compared to traditional ways to create. Historically, the creation process usually cuts away (subtracts) the excess waste, carving out needed shapes. But in 3-D printing, only the needed layers are built by adding one precise layer at a time.
Tapping into opportunity
If there's any company that will certainly benefit from a wide range of a growing number of applications of 3-D printing, it's 3D Systems. The company is already poised to be a game-changer in industrial manufacturing, professional prototyping, and consumer crafting. With key access to the three large core markets affected by 3-D printing, and a portfolio of products and services that addresses them thoroughly, 3D Systems offers investors a way to snap up their share of the broader industry's bright future. 3D Systems' performance over the long haul will, almost undoubtedly, closely follow the general market adoption of this disruptive technology.
Just how big is the opportunity? Globally, 3-D printing sales were just over $3 billion in 2013, according to figures from Wohlers Associates. But we're still in the beginnings. Wohlers estimates global industry sales to reach $6 billion by 2017 and $10.8 billion by 2021.
Even more intriguing, growth isn't slowing. In fact, growth has recently accelerated. "The compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 34.9% is the highest in 17 years," Wohlers said in a May 2014 report.
3D Systems isn't missing out on the boom. Consider some of these wild year-over-year growth rates 3D Systems reported in its first-quarter earnings release:
- 76% growth in unit sales of design and manufacturing 3-D printers
- 41% growth in 3D printing materials
- 150% growth in consumer sales
But all this growth -- and clear opportunity for more -- doesn't automatically make 3D Systems' stock a buy. Sure, the clear trajectory for further disruption and sales growth is a great starting point. But investors should demand a deeper understanding of a particular company before they make it a long-term holding.
So, without further ado, here's a free report on this disruptive company and other key opportunities in the 3-D printing industry:
Daniel Sparks has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends and owns shares of 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.