3D Printing: Investing Idea, Consumer Good, Or Work Of Art?

James Dennin, Kapitall: 3D printing is moving into art and design, but will it ever find a way into the typical household?

There's been a lot of talk of 3D printers. We cover it all the time ourselves, considering the sector's ups and downs  here, here, and here.

Read more from Kapitall: 3D Printing Stocks: Taking Disruption Lessons from Apple

And yet, despite our best efforts to keep up, speculation continues to swirl. 3D printing technology, in our opinion, has the most disruption potential since the PC or, depending on how you look at it, Amazon (AMZN)

Maybe it's because thinking about the future of 3D printing captures the imagination more than discussing other sectors – most of which produce products that aren't necessarily as pretty. There's even a new movement among aficionados of 3D printing who see the technology potentially democratizing great works of art.

And new technology from the most established 3D printing firm – Autodesk (ADSK) - allows you to create scans for printers using photographs. 

That could go a long way toward making the product more accessible. Not every consumer is going to develop the kind of design skills or computer literacy needed to input schematics into the software that corresponds with 3D printers.

An important part of the development of 3D printing is turning it into a consumer good, as opposed to something used by professional designers and inventors for specialized parts.

Early adopters also see the potential for scanners in the realms of design and art. Scanners could let you space out and print decorations for an entire room almost at once. There are even some who believe there's a market for 3D printed, near-perfect replicas of great works of art – although it can take as many as a few hundred photographs to capture every nuance. 

But so far it's still hard to see how 3D printing fits into lives of average consumers, as something they would one day "need" to own. 3D printers can cost as much as some cars – but then most people who have cars need them to get around. There's not yet a case to made that the same kind of necessity will ever exist for a   miniature Rodin in your living room. 

But some solutions to this problem are being explored in Europe. The European Space Agency has partnered with a trade organization for metal producers to figure out how 3D printing could be most helpful to them. Suggestions have included ways to print super-durable, super-lightweight metals through highly precise layering.

The end-goal of the project is to print a satellite directly, without welding or refining until the product was safe to use. This could theoretically halve the cost of all production involving metals. 

So while 3D printers may never work their way into the common household like Apple's (AAPL) computers or Ford's (F) cars – it is increasingly likely that both may soon be printed, rather than built, in American factories. 

Click on the interactive chart below to view analyst ratings over time. 

Which 3D printers are doing the best at making products for typical consumers? Use the interactive list below to begin your analysis. 

1. Proto Labs, Inc. ( PRLB): Manufactures computer numerical control (CNC) machined and injection molded custom parts for prototyping and short-run production. Market cap at $1.97B, most recent closing price at $77.80.
 

 

2. 3D Systems Corp. ( DDD): Engages in the design, development, manufacture, marketing, and servicing of 3D printers and related products, print materials, and services. Market cap at $5.17B, most recent closing price at $53.72.
 

 

3. Stratasys Inc. ( SSYS): Engages in the development, manufacture, and marketing of three dimensional (3D) printing, rapid prototyping (RP), and direct digital manufacturing (DDM) systems. Market cap at $4.05B, most recent closing price at $104.37.
 

 

4. Ansys, Inc. ( ANSS): Engages in the development and marketing of engineering simulation software and services used by engineers and designers in aerospace, automotive, manufacturing, electronics, biomedical, energy, and defense industries. Market cap at $7.98B, most recent closing price at $85.91.
 

 

5. Parametric Technology Corporation ( PMTC): Develops, markets, and supports product lifecycle management (PLM) software solutions and services that help companies design products, manage product information, and improve product development processes worldwide. Market cap at $3.37B, most recent closing price at $28.23.
 

 

6. Autodesk, Inc. ( ADSK): Provides design software and service solutions to customers in architecture, engineering, and construction; manufacturing; and digital media and entertainment industries. Market cap at $9.15B, most recent closing price at $41.0.
 

 

7. FARO Technologies Inc. ( FARO): Designs, develops, manufactures, markets, and supports portable, software driven, 3-D measurement systems used in a range of manufacturing, industrial, building construction, and forensic applications. Market cap at $704.27M, most recent closing price at $41.19.
 

 

8. Amkor Technology, Inc. ( AMKR): Provides outsourced semiconductor packaging and test services in the United States and internationally. Market cap at $732.03M, most recent closing price at $4.55.

 

 

( List compiled by Emily Smykal, article by James Dennin, Kapitall Writers. Analyst ratings sourced from Zacks Investment Research, all other data sourced from Finviz.)

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