3D Systems Corporation (DDD), Stratasys, Ltd. (SSYS): Does This Taste Like 3-D Printing to You?

The tech industry’s latest trend has a lot of different faces — and some of them are pretty strange.

There’s no denying that 3-D printing has taken the tech industry, and Wall Street, by storm. The sector’s most recent IPO, ExOne Co (NASDAQ:XONE), immediately became a market darling, jumping 13% just in its first day.

For all the hoopla over this new technology, few seem to know exactly how it works. In truth, there are a myriad of different procedures that fall under the umbrella term of “3-D printing,” and they range from the self-explanatory to the downright mind-bending. Here’s a look at the many facets of this disruptive new technology, and an overview of how it could rank as an investment.

The simple
Let’s start off with the easiest concepts and take baby steps toward the weird ones. The most basic definition of 3-D printing — also known among industry snoots as “additive manufacturing” — is creating a fully formed object, based on a two-dimensional reference image, by placing layers of substance on top of each other.

The substance in question tends to vary. Some companies create their own powder-and-glue mixture for layering, while others use glass and sand, and others still use filaments of plastic material, also known as fused deposition modeling, or FDM.

Stratasys, Ltd. (NASDAQ:SSYS)

Stratasys, Ltd. (NASDAQ:SSYS) has snagged the trademark to FDM technology, and the company creates some of the cheaper 3-D printers on the market, with prices starting at around $15,000.

Stratasys, Ltd. (NASDAQ:SSYS) took to Wall Street in 1994, and within the past few years its financials have taken some impressive leaps. Since 2009, the company’s most recent trailing-12-month revenue has gone up 91%, and its margins have shot up accordingly. Operating profits as a percentage of sales have risen from 6% to 18%, meaning the company is getting better at creating this new technology at a lower cost of production. Net income has also risen from 4% to 13% of sales over the past three years. Being the first mover In putting a trademark on a buzzworthy technology, Stratasys, Ltd. (NASDAQ:SSYS) struck right while the iron was hot and is starting to reap some benefits.

The straight-up science-fiction awesome
We now know one way 3-D printers can work. But there’s more than one way to skin a cat (or print one, for that matter), and this next technique takes the process to a whole other level.