3D printing is a strange beast. Several years ago, the technology was hyped to be an industry killer, allowing people to cheaply replicate products from open-source files within the comfort of their homes. Now, it’s more niche than anything, though with interesting, groundbreaking applications.
Yet 3D printing, like virtual reality, is still in very early stages of development. Major players in the field have emerged after acquisitions, mergers, and the like, but their products are still taking shape. Sure, you can print plastic or metal 3D models of pretty much anything. Yet in the coming years, you might be able to 3D print food and essential items.
Best of all, you can invest in the future-forward 3D-printing space. But should you? Let’s take a look.
3D printing companies sell consumer- and professional-grade printers to all sorts of customers.
Hobbyists and interested consumers buy off-the-shelf 3D printers from their nearest tech stores. Architecture firms do the same to model buildings and rooms, or work with more professional-grade printing companies to meet their needs. Some product manufacturers use 3D printers to cut costs on manufacturing and replicate hard-to-make parts. Even hospitals buy 3D printers to model complicated surgical procedures.
There are four main 3D printing companies, and all trade publicly on the stock market.
3D Systems Corp. ($DDD), Proto Labs ($PRLB), Stratasys ($SSYS), and Voxeljet ($VJET) are the four largest companies in the 3D printing market. All companies make professional-grade 3D-printers, and all but Voxeljet make consumer-grade 3D printers. Each company uses a variety of materials to create 3D objects in each of their printers. They also offer other products like scanners, sculptors, and software to round out their product offerings and become a one-stop solution for 3D printing. Each company’s product is noticeably different in use, quality, and price, depending on what you’re using their printers for.
The 3D printing market has seen better days.
Some 3D-printing stocks are currently seeing 52-week highs. At the same time, these stocks are much less valuable than they were a few years ago, when 3D printing was a hot topic. For instance, Stratasys’ stock was once worth over $90 a share in early 2014. Now it’s worth around $18 a share, a major decrease in just a few years. If more people flock to 3D printing technology in the future, these companies stand to benefit immensely from an uptick in interest. Unfortunately, that has yet to happen.
Should you invest in 3D printing?
3D printing isn’t as big as it was a few years ago. The number of existing companies in the product space significantly decreased as companies like Stratasys bought smaller 3D printing startups like Makerbot. If the industry continues to shrink and remain niche, there’s chance the above companies could merge or acquire one another.
If you feel 3D printing will see a resurgence in the coming years — or an industry-wide consolidation — you might want to do your research before you invest in the space. If you believe 3D printing reached its peak years ago, you might want to invest elsewhere.