NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- It's relatively rare these days to find a viable tech sector that allows investors to buy in easily at the ground floor.But when we look at three-dimensional printing, an exception is still seen in its emerging phases. Though perhaps for the wrong reasons, recent news of successful tests with the world's first 3-D-printed gun has put the sector back into the headlines. Staples ( SPLS) has also announced that it will be the first major retailer in the U.S. to make the Cube printer from 3D Systems ( DDD) available to its mainstream consumer base, both online and in its stores. The Cube is compatible with software platforms used in Microsoft ( MSFT) Windows-running and Apple ( AAPL) Mac computers, has WiFi capabilities and comes with a wide variety of free 3-D templates (with more available for sale online). Stories like these will surely put 3-D printing back into the purview of investors. But is this premature? Is it still too early to buy into the hype of the 3-D printing revolution? Evidence of Progress At the moment, 3-D printers can make mechanical devices with moving parts, clothing, jewelry and even medical implants that can perform better than some parts of the human body. As machinery costs start to approach mainstream levels and gain mass-market access, the 3-D printing industry is positioning itself for liftoff. The boundaries between the digital and physical realms continue to blur, and manufacturing in the global economy will continue to be re-defined by the progress made in the 3-D printing industry.
The cheapest 3-D printers are currently available for around $500. As these prices continue to drop, the more democratized manufacturing landscape will become a local industry, with items produced near focused markets or areas with significant raw materials access. Undoubtedly, this is a bullish scenario but finding specific companies to watch can be a difficult task, given the current phase of the long-term cycle. Expected Earnings After a Recent IPO One of the most recent companies in the sector is ExOne ( XONE), which went public in February. Its most recent performance numbers have been supportive. The latest sales were better than expected at $12.7 million, and the positive surprise helped lift values in some of the other stocks in the sector.