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#DigitalSkeptic: 3D Printer Stocks Won't 'Make' Much After All

NEW YORK (TheStreet) Try as they might, my buddies Nick Pinkston and Danielle Applestone can't seem to make much of anything out of 3-D printers.

"3-D printing is limited by technology. The process is slow and expensive, and the materials are limited and expensive," wrote Pinkston, founder of Plethora, a San Francisco experimental rapid fabrication company, in one of what had to be 50 emails we've exchanged.

And Applestone, president of Other Machine, a similarly uber-cool 'Frisco-based emerging manufacturing operation, was equally unimpressed by 3-D printer tools from outfits such as 3D Systems, Stratasys, ExOne or Voxeljet.

"3-D printing is not even on our horizon," she told me on the phone last week. "The technology simply does not scale for manufacturing."

What's meaningful for investors, considering the recent swoon in valuation for 3-D printer stocks, is that Pinkston and Applestone absolutely, positively should be 3-D printer evangelists.

Both are deeply entwined in the emerging world of redefining how real things will really get made as these United States begin to relearn manufacturing. Pinkston's Plethora, for example, develops what amounts to an automated, on-demand manufacturing engine, similar in many ways to how software operating systems work. And Applestone's Other Machine is creating a line of personal manufacturing tools, similar to hip 3-D printers such as MakerBot. But her device mills, carves, etches or otherwise cuts things.

So, at least in theory, 3-D printers should be the perfect low-cost, easy-to-use manufacturing option for both CEOs. But no matter how much squinting, staring, prodding and hopeful thinking they could muster, neither can find a place for the type of additive manufacturing 3-D printing represents.

"Three-D printers are good for prototypes and complex shapes," said Applestone, who, by the by, has a Ph.D. in material science from the University of Texas at Austin and holds patents for lithium ion battery design. "But the parts don't last long and you get no sense for the mechanical properties of the item you are making."

Pinkston hit the nail the 3-D head: "The tools limit your thinking."

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