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What Most 3D Printing Companies Are Focusing On Today

By Motley Fool Staff - Feb 21, 2016 at 9:15AM

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Though the 3D printing industry has hit a rough patch due to weak consumer adoption, those companies that have realigned their strategies in other directions are finding some success.

Despite some very optimistic predictions a few years ago, most people don't have 3D printers in their homes, nor do they want them... yet. So for now, most manufacturers of this technology are focusing their efforts elsewhere -- namely, the industrial enterprise segment.

In this clip, Vincent Shen and Sean O'Reilly talk about some of the ways 3D printing companies are finding success with enterprise applications. Also, they take a look at a few areas where the consumer side is thriving today, and some potential opportunities for the industry.

Listen to the full podcast by clicking here. A full transcript follows the video.

This podcast was recorded on Feb. 11, 2016. 

Vincent Shen: Some of these companies are moving away from the consumer market, which is where a lot of the potential was initially seen as being in.

Sean O'Reilly: Yeah, I was kind of surprised, because the theory for a long time was I'd be able to go into Home Depot and get my own 3D printer. I don't know what I was going to do with it, I was probably going to make little action figures or something for my son (laughs).

Shen: (laughs) So, while the consumer side hasn't been as promising, I think there are some companies that are seeing promising results in the more industrial enterprise sector. There's a Swedish company, Arcam, for example. They use electronic beam technology to melt metal powders into solid objects.

O'Reilly: I do not want to own that.

Shen: This is on the metal 3D printing side, OK? And the thing is, the company is focused on the aerospace industry, also medical devices as well. But they are gaining some traction in aerospace with airplanes and engines, because General Electric, Pratt & Whitney and Rolls-Royce are all customers using these 3D-printed parts in their products. And even, like, HP Inc. (HPQ 0.96%), typically considered the weaker of the two entities after the spin-off, because they are saddled with the slow-growth, actually declining hardware business

O'Reilly: They actually make printers. Yeah.

Shen: Yeah, they're a hardware business. HP Inc. is kind of leveraging this technology too, where, 3D printing, ultimately, I think there is a nice runway to growth, and that's going to be pretty rare for their business. So, they're focusing on that. They're using their multi-jet fusion technology to hopefully create some faster polymer printers for enterprise use. And then, again  on the institutional side, this was a really interesting story out of Singapore, where they recently announced that they want to consider using 3D printing technology for public housing.

O'Reilly: Wow! To quickly and cheaply get houses together.

Shen: Exactly. So, they have a lot of people in their city-state that are in government housing, they have an aging population, and they're trying to reduce their reliance on foreign labor and increase productivity overall. So, this idea they're having is, they're working with this 3D printing company who can 3D print concrete, and build it room by room, floor by floor, offsite, and then bring it to the actual construction site, and assemble it there. So, it's mostly focused on infrastructure. They wouldn't be making all the little...

O'Reilly: The fixtures and stuff, yeah.

Shen: Exactly. But, in terms of...

O'Reilly: The walls and the floor, yeah.

Shen: This is something they're putting millions of dollars into, to research and test to see what potential is there for them. And, granted, we have all that potential and these cool projects coming out of the more industrial side. It's not like the consumer market is completely dead. In terms of uses, I was just kind of curious how people have been making use of 3D printers that they do own.

O'Reilly: Action figures, obviously.

Shen: Exactly. So, some people are able to use some for their start-up businesses....

O'Reilly: To make prototypes.

Shen: Think of Etsy, where you can make a prototype, but before, if you wanted to make jewelry or something like that, you might have to find somebody to contract their facilities in order to make these. But now, you can have what is essentially a mini-manufacturing ...

O'Reilly: That looks like a microwave. (laughs

Shen: Exactly. So, on the start-up side, it's really interesting. But also, even with the gun industry, this could be something that's really big, not only in terms of some of the regulatory concerns, but also in terms of product innovation, where there's a guy who recently had videos on YouTube, and some people were calling it the first 3D printed semi-automatic gun.

O'Reilly: Uh... ! (laughs

Shen: Granted, it's not fully 3D printed. A lot of the main parts that endure a lot of stress when  firing the gun are actually provided by Glock. But, otherwise, I think some 95% of the parts are 3D printed. And it just kind of gives you, again, an idea of how some people are using this technology to innovate. And then, in another way, I was just thinking about, just parts for household items. So, if you have a desk, and some part breaks off of it, you can go to the company site that made it...

O'Reilly: Yeah, download the software.

Shen: Yeah, essentially the electronic blueprints for that part, put it into your printer, and replace it without having to wait on the mail and all that. So, again, I think there's going to be a lot more uses to come out as adoption increases, as different parties use it and realize, "Oh, wow, this could really work in this way." But otherwise, this is definitely a sector to watch, especially on the industrial side, because it seems to be having more success there.

Sean O'Reilly has no position in any stocks mentioned. Vincent Shen has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool owns shares of Etsy, and General Electric Company. The Motley Fool recommends Home Depot. 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.

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