In the following video, 3D printing specialist Steve Heller reports from the floor of EuroMold 2014, the world's largest 3D printing conference, held in Frankfurt, Germany, to share his biggest takeaways from attending the event.
In Steve's opinion, 3D printing as a technology appears to becoming more widely accepted, which is resulting in a more mature conversation among attendees. Additionally, metal 3D printers are becoming more capable and focused on direct manufacturing applications, academic research firms are driving new innovations, and the industry as a whole may face increased competition thanks to attractive growth rates.
Going forward, 3D printing investors and industry watchers should monitor developments that come from industry conferences like EuroMold because they may uncover insights that could be difficult to discern from only reading a press release.
A full transcript follows the video.
Steve Heller: Steve Heller here, EuroMold day three; we're doing the takeaways. I've had time to go through the event. This is the largest 3D printing conference in the world. We're in Frankfurt, Germany. It's Thanksgiving Day, but we're not done yet!
Let's get into it. Some of the biggest takeaways I've seen this year, talking with the vendors and the employees of various 3D printing companies, the conversation that they're having is much different than it was a few years ago.
A few years ago at EuroMold, people were just awestruck by the technology. They just didn't really know much about 3D printing, and they didn't have much of an understanding of what the possibilities were. They didn't have their expectations set.
Now it seems that there's more of an acceptance of 3D printing. This EuroMold hall is packed with 3D printing providers, so it seems like it's more of an accepted industry, technology, for manufacturing and prototyping.
Now, instead of the conversation just being, "What is 3D printing?" it's about why and how. "How can this benefit my operations? Why should I implement 3D printing?"
One of the biggest reasons is -- prototyping is the best way to explain this -- rapid iteration. Bringing your products to market faster is one thing, but also let's say you have a product deadline and you want to bring a product to market in eight months. Instead of sending out for prototypes, you could 3D-print a prototype multiple times, and by the time you actually reach your deadline you can have a finished product that could be better because you've had more rapid iterations at a much cheaper price because there's no tooling required.
Moving on there... in terms of metals, definitely a very interesting showing there between EOS, a German-based company. They're No. 1 in metal 3D printing. I got to go to their press event. It was very interesting to learn that they grew revenues by about 36% year over year. There's about a 50/50 split between metal and plastic machines. Being No. 1 in metal, they sold about 150 units.
The other [company focusing o metals] is 3D Systems (NYSE:DDD). Their ProX 400 is a massive 3D printer. It has the largest builder of any 3D printer. I believe it's 500 mm x 500 mm x 500 mm build volume, and it has a dual laser system which increases throughput.
Getting back to EOS here for a moment, EOS has a single laser system today. Their relentless emphasis on quality is what has made them No. 1. They have about 1,500 units installed worldwide, between their nylon and plastics and metal 3D printers.
They expect the split to be -- right now it's about 60% plastic and nylons to 40% metal in terms of their install base -- they expect that to grow significantly. Going forward in the next year or two, they're going to come out with a four-laser system that's going to be four times as fast. Obviously, that lowers operating cost, that increases throughput, and that overall makes a better product, so 3D Systems' ProX 400 at the time this EOS machine comes out may actually be not as compelling a product.
Going forward, in terms of most exciting for me -- what really stole the show for me -- I got to speak with this academic research group called TNO. They're based out of the Netherlands. They're self-funded, but actually, there's a law in Netherlands government that there should be independent research institutions.
What they do is bring proof of concepts to the market. Right now, one of their proof of concepts that I thought was really interesting was very similar to 3D Systems' "racetrack" design for Project Ara, which is basically a 3D printing platform that's [meant for] rapid manufacturing.
The way that it works is, instead of the print heads moving and creating layer by layer, the print beds actually go around on a track and they visit different print head stations. That makes a 90% increase in throughput [in terms of print heads being in use], and makes it just a faster [by a factor of 10], better product overall in the experience for the manufacturing floor.
Overall, in terms of what this means for 3D Systems and everything in between, I think that 3D Systems isn't the only company out there that's actually offering this "racetrack" solution in the future.
TNO is actually looking for collaborators to bring it to market. They have the proof of concepts. Now they're looking for a partner to actually bring this product to market, so 3D Systems' product may not actually be as differentiated as it's claimed to be.
Then in terms of some of the least exciting things, we're in Hall 11. This is additive manufacturing; it's crowded, there's definitely a buzz, there's a lot of energy going on over here.
Hall 8 though, which is the traditional subtractive manufacturing, those big CNC milling machines, pretty quiet; a little bit more low-key. It's more of a mature industry. Just seeing the dichotomy between the two, I think was very interesting.
In terms of another overall theme I think investors should watch out for, the 3D printing industry is inviting a lot of competition because its growth is expected to be tremendous. Wohlers Associates projects about 31% growth, compounded every year between 2013 through 2020.
It's going to become about a $20 billion industry, according to their estimates. That's a pretty big number, and that's inviting some big competition. When you have increased competition, that tends to drive prices down for the customer, but that may be hard for the businesses to manage.
Thinking about pricing pressures going forward, I don't think we're at the point where we're seeing pricing pressures, but I think that that is going to be a theme that will potentially play out over the next few years.
That's it for our takeaways from EuroMold 2014. Thanks for watching.
Steve Heller owns shares of 3D Systems. The Motley Fool recommends and owns shares of 3D Systems and Apple. 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.