3D Printing is an extension of the Rapid Prototyping manufacturing technique of the 1980s. Chuck Hull of 3D Systems Corporation (NYSE:DDD) patented the first such commercially viable, Stereolithography, in 1986. More sophisticated technologies such as Genisys, Z402, Actua 2100, and Spectrum Z510 evolved in the 1990s.
Although 3D Printing technology has been around, it is yet to achieve its full potential. Most changes are viewed skeptically because their impact is a matter of debate and speculation. Just recently, the first workable gun has been made using 3D printing and may be a reason why this technology is being touted as the impending third industrial revolution.
Among the better known 3D printing companies are 3D Systems Corporation (NYSE:DDD), ExOne Co (NASDAQ:XONE), and Stratasys, Ltd. (NASDAQ:SSYS). Investment in these and other such companies appear a bit risky at present but could have the potential to catapult the investor into vast returns.
3D Printing: Basics and Evolution
3D Printing is a computer-controlled, additive manufacturing process. Parts are made by deposition of thousands of layers over one another. Each layer is a cross section of the part at a certain level. The process is automated by feeding the design drawings to a computer that directs the manufacturing machine.
Such a technique is in contrast to traditional subtractive methods that employ calculated removal of material from the existing block. 3D printing is faster, less expensive, and more flexible than subtractive processes and provides a final product of better quality. 3D printing enables production of prototypes and final parts of plastic and metals in engineering, medicine, archeology, etc.
3D Systems Corporation (NYSE:DDD) possesses the widest range of 3D printers for additive manufacturing, and its business of production of customized, on-demand parts is in great demand. The company also sells raw plastic and the consumable metal used in its machinery and does business in the U.S., Europe, and Asia.
ExOne Co (NASDAQ:XONE) manufactures parts from diverse materials such as silica sand, stainless steel, ceramic, glass, and bronze. The company also makes casting molds and sells 3D Systems Corporation (NYSE:DDD) printing machines. It has five production centers in the U.S. and caters to the automotive, heavy equipment, aerospace, and oil-gas industries.
Stratasys, Ltd. (NASDAQ:SSYS) is headquartered in Minneapolis, U.S.A. and in Rehevot, Israel, and it was formed by the merger of Stratasys and Object Ltd. The company makes a variety of 3D Systems Corporation (NYSE:DDD) printers and materials for manufacture of new-design products, as well as for low-volume manufacture of finished goods. It also makes prototypes of production grade parts and manufacturing tools for aerospace and defense applications.