3D printing – money printer?

Would the 3D printing technology work as a money printer? 3D printing and 3D printing as a service is a fascinating area that luckily 5 years ago I was tasked with looking at as part of my job. When I investigated, I was surprised how the technology had progressed over the preceding 5 years and how bright the future looked. I remember talking with my colleagues and being blown away at the potential as we discussed everything from customized knee joints, aerospace parts to architecture.

Fast forward to 2021 and I am super excited at the outlook as the technology appears to becoming more and more mainstream and gaining traction rapidly in various industries.

As an example, a TV show in the UK called Vintage Voltage that switches petrol engines with electric motor technology in classic cars and motorcycles had an interesting project to make a classic Royal Enfield donor bike electric. Slotting in the different shape electric motor in was fairly straightforward, but replicating the exterior look of the engine was challenging and as a motorcycle clearly displays its engine, unlike a car it had to be spot on. This is where 3D printing played a pivotal role, as the supplier tasked with the job laser scanned the original and new parts and created a set of printed engine parts that fitted around the new electric motor, making the motorcycle look fantastic just like the original petrol engine.

What are the prospects?

In the future, I wonder if many of us will have our own advanced 3D printers in our homes whereby we can print products as we need them by downloading the part online or even designing it ourselves. This might be a rare part for a motorcycle but it could extend to a pair of shoes or some designer clothing. Indeed, taking things to the extreme, your home might have even have been built by 3D printing. If you think this is farfetched, I’m glad to inform you that it has already been done by multiple companies including by Belgian company Kamp C that recently finished construction on its first 3D-printed two-story house. The printing was done by a massive cement printer called the BOD2, made by a company called COBOD (Construction of Buildings on Demand).

The way that I see it, 3D printing has a couple of strong tailwinds. The first tailwind is the technology that is improving constantly, with prices starting to reduce due to economies of scale.

The second tailwind I predict is the nationalization of supply chains. Covid-19 has presented challenges relating to supply chains. For example, the pressure to source PPE equipment and ventilators triggered the realization that if a country or company has globalized its supply chain, it is exposed to supply risk. The solution in the UK and USA was to engage with the auto industry and manufacture locally. This learning, combined with the ability to leverage automation and 3D printing manufacturing capability really is opening the potential for a shift in thinking. Globally, many developed economies, after years of outsourcing manufacturing in order to be competitive due to higher domestic wage costs can really investigate and promote an on-shore manufacturing agenda.

What do we really mean by “3D printing as a money printer”?

There are a few ways I’m looking at this from an investment opportunity and wondering if this really could be an emerging mega trend. Indeed, according to Statista, the industry is expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate of 26.4 percent between 2020 and 2024. The first is to buy a pure 3D printing company like 3D Systems Corp (NYSE: DDD). DDD recently went stratospheric in January 2021, doubling its share price in a single day! The second is to look at a company that is a bit more diversified but has the chance to expand its market share and organically grow into the 3D space, like Hewlett Packard (NYSE: HPQ). The third option I’m considering is reviewing companies that produce the software for the 3D printers, for example, Autodesk (NASDAQ: ADSK).

One thing is for sure, I’m going to continue to follow this sector very closely to see what exciting developments will occur next and hopefully this if I choose the right company to invest in, this could be making me some money soon!