When I first started writing about 3D printing, most investors viewed it as a futuristic "gee-whiz" concept – and had no idea it was actually a "here-and-now" technology they could make money on.
And the mainstream news media didn't seem to know that this 3D technology even existed.
Today, as you know, many of the 3D stocks (including some that I've identified) have soared … and then fallen back to earth. Some pundits claim this was nothing but hype – or another tech bubble that now has burst.
Still others are writing this off as little more than a novelty niche.
Don't make that mistake.
With 3D printing, we're in the earliest stages of what's destined to become an entire new industry.
And, as I'm going to show you today, the profit potential is massive.
The Latest Developments in 3D Printing
So massive, in fact, that even toy companies are making a play for market share.
Wobble Works LLC, a toy and robotics maker, has unveiled a pen called the "3Doodler" that allows you to "draw" three-dimensional forms (in a demo video, the user draws a tiny desktop model of the Eiffel Tower … it's awesome!).
Even though 3Doodler was created by a toymaker, the fast-developing 3D printing world opens the door to some serious business potential, as well.
3Doodler makes it possible for all kinds of creative types to "draw" such 3D designs as bridges, towers and cars – making it a great potential tool for engineers, architects and designers who want to quickly transform an idea into a basic prototype. All you have to do is draw out your idea on a piece of paper.
Or even in the air for that matter…
What 3Doodler has done is to lay a foundation for a new 3D printing segment – low-cost, portable machines that will unshackle these creative users. Laptops had the same effect when they were introduced in the 1980s: Office-workers were no longer shackled to their desks … or their desktop PCs. They were able to work wherever they wanted.
Tablets and smartphones have furthered that trend.
The same will happen with low-cost 3D printer/prototyping devices. They will allow "creative" work to be done anywhere at any time.
3Doodler's debut is important to investors for three main reasons.
First, as a proof of business concept, Wobble Works has raised nearly $2 million on "crowdsourcing" site Kickstarter.com, where you can view a video of the pen in action here.
Second, it will help open the lower-end of the market to a whole new group of buyers who might be put off by the price of today's $1,300 entry-level printers.
And finally, 3Doodler shows how quickly this market is moving in a trend that is destined to bring us lots more profit plays.
Last week, I told you how a new alliance between software leader Autodesk Inc. (Nasdaq: ADSK) and tiny bioprinting firm Organovo Holdings Inc. (OTC: ONVO) will transform drug discovery and organ transplants.
Today, I want to tell you about three more ways you can play the 3D printing market.
ExOne IPO Pops 25%
Right now, The ExOne Co. (NasdaqGM: XONE) is probably best known for its recent successful IPO. Priced at $18, shares rose 25% on the first day of trading Feb. 7.
Since then, the company's top brass has gotten more serious about proving it's not just a "me-too" company.
Indeed, CEO Kent Rockwell recently told Investors Business Daily he see sharp differences between ExOne and the two biggest firms in the market, 3D Systems and Stratasys. (Until a recent correction, both had been among the market's top-performing stocks.)
Unlike those bigger firms, ExOne focuses exclusively on large industrial firms such as aerospace, automotive and heavy-equipment makers. More importantly, Rockwell says, ExOne's printers can handle a wider range of materials.
These tougher materials allow ExOne printers to make production-grade objects and castings from stainless steel, bronze, glass, and ceramics.
ExOne is also working on ways to use titanium, tungsten carbide, aluminum and magnesium – stock-in-trade materials for heavy industry.
Proto Labs Focuses on Fast Product Production
For its part, Proto Labs Inc. (NYSE: PRLB) doesn't flash its 3D printing credentials. Instead, the firm bills itself as a high-speed provider of prototypes … and small batch runs of the injection-molded plastic parts that are integral to a wide range of modern products and components.
It's a unique view. Where 3D Systems and Stratasys see themselves as printer companies, Proto Labs believes it's selling "solutions" to customer problems. It's selling fast-delivery times – a service that designers and engineers can use to quickly transform their three-dimensional designs into actual parts.
Proto Labs turns out those parts using a process known as computer numerical code. It uses engineering-grade resins as well as metals. The firm's "Protomold" plastic injection service offers designers hundreds of materials to choose from.
The firm went public in February 2012. It says its strategy or philosophy works particularly well for such markets as medical devices, electronics, appliances, automotive and consumer products.
iRobot Wants to Transform 3D Manufacturing
Even though it's a household name, iRobot Corp. (NasdaqGS: IRBT), remains the most speculative 3D printing play.
That's because it's still in the early stages of making its move into the sector. The firm is best known for its range of military and home-cleaning robots.
But it does have a unique idea that could have a huge impact on how a wide range of products are made – not to mention a new source of sales for this small-cap leader.
Simply stated, it wants to automate the entire 3D printing process. iRobot says that's the idea behind a new "Robotic Fabricator" for which the firm recently filed for patent protection.
As iRobot sees it, 3D printing still involves too much human input which is inefficient.
It also represents opportunity.
iRobot still hasn't said if it will sell the fabricators to other firms or simply use them to boost profits.
As I said at the outset, 3D printing stocks have come under pressure after enjoying quite a run.
Don't let that deter you.
Here in the Era of Radical Change, we're watching the birth of a crucial new industry.
That doesn't happen often. But when it does, the profit opportunities are massive.
We'll continue to steer you toward the most-bullish opportunities, and will help you avoid the bearish traps.
And we'll provide the detailed progress reports that you've come to expect from us … all along the way.
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- Money Morning:
3D Printing: How "Desktop Factories" Will Create the Next $1 Trillion Industry
- Money Morning:
These Five High-Tech IPOs Are On Fire
About the Author
Michael A. Robinson is a 35-year Silicon Valley veteran and one of the top technology financial analysts working today. He regularly delivers winning trade recommendations to the Members of his monthly tech investing newsletter, Nova-X Report, and small-cap tech service, Radical Technology Profits. In the past two years alone, his subscribers have seen over 100 double- and triple-digit gains from his recommendations.
As a consultant, senior adviser, and board member for Silicon Valley venture capital firms, Michael enjoys privileged access to pioneering CEOs and high-profile industry insiders. In fact, he was one of five people involved in early meetings for the $160 billion "cloud" computing phenomenon. And he was there as Lee Iacocca and Roger Smith, the CEOs of Chrysler and GM, led the robotics revolution that saved the U.S. automotive industry.
In addition to being a regular guest and panelist on CNBC and Fox Business Network, Michael is also a Pulitzer Prize-nominated writer and reporter. His first book, "Overdrawn: The Bailout of American Savings" warned people about the coming financial collapse - years before "bailout" became a household word.
You can follow Michael's tech insight and product updates for free with his Strategic Tech Investor newsletter.