Multifab

It may not look like much, but this 3D printer threatens 3D Systems and Stratasys. Source: MIT Computational Fabrication Group

In the last couple of years, it seems that a new 3D printer comes along every few months and threatens to disrupt what 3D Systems (NYSE:DDD) and Stratasys (NASDAQ:SSYS) have spent years building. Apparently, the 3D printing industry's attractive growth prospects have proven too appealing to pass up. It's invited all sorts of new competition, including HP, Carbon3D, voxel8, XYZprinting, Formlabs, and many others.

3D Systems and Stratasys have become public enemies No. 1 and 2 because together they control about one-third of the industry's total revenue. The majority of new entrants often try to undermine 3D Systems and Stratasys on price or with a new technology that offers a superior value proposition. Either way, it threatens to put pressure on 3D Systems and Stratasys to defend their leading positions in the marketplace.

Last week, a MIT research lab showcased MultiFab, a multi-material 3D printer platform that can print with ten materials in one job. It's a modular platform that can be scaled, was built using off the shelf components, and incorporates the use of machine vision – a first in 3D printing.

The craziest part is that MultiFab costs under $7,000 to build and uses materials that are priced around $20 per kilogram. For comparison, 3D Systems' and Stratasys' flagship multi-material 3D printer cost $225,000 and $330,000, respectively, force users to purchase proprietary materials for hundreds of dollars per kilogram, can only print with three materials at a time (but can be digitally blended), and lack machine vision.

Machine vision, which is used extensively in factory settings where human eyes cannot move at the speed of assembly lines or resolve fine details, enables MultiFab to monitor each layer of the print job so that errors can be self-corrected in real-time by compensating for the error in subsequent layers, and foreign objects can be integrated into a print job with ease.   

Click through the following presentation to learn more about MultiFab, the larger competitive landscape, and how it all connects to 3D Systems and Stratasys.

Steve Heller owns shares of 3D Systems. The Motley Fool owns and recommends 3D Systems. The Motley Fool recommends Stratasys. 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.