Hawkish observers of the 3D printing markets have long been hesitant about opportunities to invest in 3D printing stock. There are multiple reasons for said hesitance. 3D printing has remained, since its inception, a very niche market full of more impassioned prosumers than consumers, lending it to the constant rumours of bursting bubbles and waning interest. Another reason is that the modern wave of the industry gained prominence during a recession, i.e. the worst time to be investing (low disposable income, low market confidence, businesses crashing left right and centre etc.). But it begs the question: is the industry ready for an investment boom in 2017?
So What About 3D Systems Recent Stock Upsurge?
Looking at the recent numbers being reported, one can see that 3D Systems’ stock value has risen about 24% in January. This would lead one to assume it’s a good time to invest? Well, not exactly. The stock value has risen due to rumours of a buyout from General Electric, not due to some new landmark technological research or advancement in the field. This sort of hearsay-based investment is ill-advised. It can have a definite backlash if the rumours do not pan out. Not to say it’s a bad stock by any means. As far as we know the buy-out could happen (after all, GE have previously shown increased investment in 3D Printing on their own part). Even if it doesn’t acquire the company, that won’t detract from the fact that 3D Systems’ stock value has doubled since last year.
Signs of Growth
So that’s just one stock. Are there any other signs giving us valid reason to expect the market to turn north? 3D printing companies are certainly not backing away.
Renishaw is pushing forward with new facilities and B2B programs to give hands-on support to fellow companies. Companies are in an arms race to find the best and fastest method for metallic additive manufacturing. Additionally, desktop 3D printing surprised everyone last year. Many considered it a goner. The industry remained stable, much to the surprise of the skeptics.
Also helping the case, 2016 was one of the best years for the robotics industry. It’s a good indicator when industries that are adjacent to 3D printing are doing well in the markets. ‘The rising tide lifts all ships’, as they say. This is leading many keen observers to speculate that it might trickle into 3D printing as well.
Public sector funding is also on the rise.
The Israeli defence ministry is teaming up with Nano Dimension to produce new materials. This is in an effort to boost aeronautics and space travel. That’s a big win for R and D and manufacturing. Government funding (particularly military) often means there’s serious potential in an industry.
The UK has also dabbled in pushing money around for the 3D printing industry. Personally, I’d expect other governments to follow suit soon. There are multiple avenues for funding. The usual suspects are medical equipment and aeronautics. Those seem to benefit governments the most and thus pique their interests.
But Hold On…
That’s all the good news. No harbingers of doom. Relative smooth sailing from the looks of it. Does it sound too good to be true? That’s because there’s a catch:
You have to be well-informed about 3D printing and the market in general to make the right choices. 3D printing is a very wide blanket term for a vast number of very different technologies. Only a few companies have the potential to research and develop multiple forms of additive manufacturing. So by choosing between companies, you will also be choosing between types of 3D Printing.
Some are working with plastics only, some with plastics and metals and others with biomaterials. These are all different fields under a large umbrella dubbed 3D printing for convenience sake. Then there are the methods themselves. SLS, SLM, CLIP, 3D Inkjet and so on. They all use vastly different technologies. Saying you’re investing in 3D printing is like saying you’re investing in the automobile industry. It’s too vague a statement and there are tons of competing companies involved.
At this point, all the companies have drawn lines in the sand and hedged their bets on one type of printing or another. Seeing as how the industry has not found a ‘one size fits all’ solution to additive manufacturing, you will have to do your research into which companies you want to fund. Technologies will go in and out of fashion during this period. New ones will constantly emerge. New methods and new materials may also pop up till a dominant form takes over the market.
The best advice right now: invest in a company that works with multiple types of AM. That’s the safest move on the board. Even that doesn’t guarantee that some fledgling producer might invent a landmark printing method in their garage. It’s happened before.