Which 3D printer will be the one sitting on my and everyone else's desk?
April 29, 2013 1:41 PM   Subscribe

I do think that pretty soon everyone will have a 3D printer at home--but which one? I'm looking to invest in a company that makes and/or sells them, but I have never invested on my own before and have no idea how to choose the company that will be the right one. I realize that the stock market is all about speculation and uncertainty, but can someone point me in the right direction so I can at least make an informed decision? I don't have any real life friends who are investors, either, so I turn to your collective wisdom. Thank you!
posted by aimeedee to Grab Bag (17 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Yeah....no, I don't see the practical application frankly.

Let's think about the Picture Telephone. It's not really the thing everyone thought it would be. Sure, there's Skype, but that's more about free calling than it is about seeing the face of the guy at the distant end.

Also, I don't know how much you plan to invest, but this is a really BAD way of doing an investment. It's akin to picking the best horse in the race. Sure, if you get your money in early on the winner, you may make some money, but it's all too easy to pick a nag destined for the glue factory.

How do you envision 3-D objects being fabricated at home being used in everyday life?

Here's a list of companies with stock. Some like HP have been around for awhile, so the success of the 3-D printer may cause the needle to move a bit, but it won't be the longshot payday you're looking for.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 1:52 PM on April 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

I was just researching this and came across this review of the best ones on the market: best 3d printers
posted by Eicats at 1:53 PM on April 29, 2013

I'm a lot more optimistic about 3D printing than R_B but I don't think there's any way to responsibly answer your question. There are way too many unknowns to be able to intelligently pick the big winner in 3D printing, and in any case MoonOrb is right that the name that becomes popular might not be the best investment. Not to mention that some of the potential successful companies are privately held and you wouldn't be able to buy stock in them (I think MakerBot is still private, yes?).

If you're interested in investing in general, you might want to look at Mutant's profile here on Metafilter.

The Motley Fool has a decent introduction to investing on its site, though you probably want to avoid all the associated stuff they advertise and try to get you to sign up for.
posted by Wretch729 at 2:03 PM on April 29, 2013

I'm a lot more optimistic about 3D printing than R_B

Hey, I was wrong about Google, but I was right about Enron.

Basically, my question is always, "where are they making the money?" If I can't figure it out, I don't invest.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 2:05 PM on April 29, 2013

What makes you think that the correct answer is a publicly traded company?
posted by acidic at 2:11 PM on April 29, 2013 [2 favorites]

It is too soon to tell, even for an expert investor. Currently there is no strong "need" for 3-D printers, so it is impossible to tell which printer company would best fill a future need. Eventually, somebody will come up with an innovative use for 3-D printers that will catch on like wildfire, and that is the point at which you can make educated investment decisions.

For example, auto mechanics hate constantly buying ridiculously overpriced new tool sets from car companies (and it's worth noting that each tool set only works on certain models of cars, so they have to frequently upgrade). Eventually some auto mechanic will discover that with the right material, he can print his own tools, and not have to pay ridiculous prices for each year's new tool sets. Or a chef will realize that by combining the right ingredients into a 3-D printer, he can make food a spectacle, and suddenly all the restaurants will want one.

Once this "must-have" use is discovered (or artificially created), at that time you will have enough data to be able to research 3-D printer companies and make an educated guess as to which product will best suit that critical need. But until that point, it's a total crapshoot.
posted by wolfdreams01 at 2:20 PM on April 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

You should be looking at ways of investing in the industry, not a particular company.
posted by benbenson at 2:38 PM on April 29, 2013 [3 favorites]

Yeah, I don't see this as a wise bet. First, I am someone who works with 3d printers, and outside a few specialized cases, I don't think there's a need for a 3d printer on everyone's desk and there may never be. The cost is too high, and the quality of output is too low, even with industrial systems that cost far more than a desktop user's budget. I'm looking for cost-effective dual-extruder printers that can reliably do soluble support structures (and that involves both the second extruder head AND the legally licensable soluble material solution & dissolving bath) before I'm interested. Even then, for a lot of applications, printing the 3d part is only one step towards something like creating a mold for another casting process. Honestly, I'd get more use out of a good homebuilder-friendly laser cutter or 3-axis CNC, and that's more complex in terms of fume/dust capture and eye-burning lasers.

Second problem: it seems like a lot of the companies in the consumer 3d printer space are not publicly traded. Even if they were, it's not clear that "selling a lot of printers" translates directly into revenue and stock value, with all the other factors involved.

You might look at companies that produce the ABS or PLA plastic filament that other manufacturers buy? Even then, I doubt that 3d printer use accounts for a significant fraction of their revenues and so success of 3d printers might not correlate to success of their stock.
posted by Alterscape at 2:55 PM on April 29, 2013 [4 favorites]

Not to mention that one of the big goals in making 3D printers is to make one that can print all it's own components. If this we're the right time and I knew anything about this, I would say you should really be looking into is the people that sell the feedstock.
posted by edbles at 3:00 PM on April 29, 2013

While I can see many many people using and benefiting from 3D printing in the near future, I don't think that means that "everyone will have one on their desk." Rather, I think you'll see the emergence of 3D printing on demand which would give people the ability to have objects made to either custom (or more often) templated specifications, in a range of materials. So it's really about 3D printing as a service. Shapeways has been doing a great job pioneering this model and I believe it's just a matter of time before Amazon enters the market.
posted by donovan at 3:35 PM on April 29, 2013

I think the greatest value you are likely to gain from your current interest/insight is unlikely to come from a profitable return on any money you manage to invest in companies involved in 3d printing. Instead it is to use your interest to explore the subject of investment, particularly investment in early stage companies. Along the way, you'll scrutinize how you think about money, your decision making process, market psychology, value chains, investment terms, industry structures, intellectual property regimes, business "ecosystems," and more.

To get you started, let's pick apart your question and consider some of its constituent elements:

I do think that pretty soon everyone will have a 3D printer at home--but which one?
  • What do you mean by "everyone?" Do you really mean "everyone," or is it actually less than everyone? Who is most likely to have a 3D printer at home, who is least likely? About how many are there in each category?
  • What do you mean by "pretty soon?" Next year? Five years? Ten years? This is important for a number of reasons, not least of which being the amount of time you can afford to wait for your investment to pay off, and also, for estimating the average annual return -- which is important for comparing this investment option against other options. What are the ramp rates of other technologies/product categories? Which seems to be the best analog, why?
  • Why do you think this? Are you a user of 3d printing? Are friends and family using 3d printing? In what ways are they different/the same as "everyone." Why would someone have a 3d printer in their home? What would they use it for? Why wouldn't they have things fabricated by someone else with a 3d printer, rather than doing it themselves, at home? Why haven't 3D printers taken off yet? Why haven't home CNC mills taken off yet? How much more useful is a 3D printer that works with a limited range of materials vs a CNC mill that could work with a much wider range of materials? What do people do today that they would instead do with an affordable 3D printer?
I'm looking to invest in a company that makes and/or sells them, but I have never invested on my own before and have no idea how to choose the company that will be the right one.
  • Why haven't you invested on your own before? Why do you plan to start now? What unique insight do you bring to this investment area that you haven't possessed in the past?
  • How much do you have to invest? Can you afford to loose all of it? How long can you wait before cashing in?
  • Why don't you have any idea how to choose a company to invest in?
  • Why do you assume there currently exists a "right one?"
  • Why do you think the best strategy is to invest in a single company, instead of a mix? What would the advantages and disadvantages be of investing in a single company, vs a portfolio of companies? Which approach do early-stage investors use?
  • The truth is, there are few/no companies that sell, primarily 3d printers and related technologies that an average investor can invest in. Why is that? Is it typical for other emerging technologies? Why?
I realize that the stock market is all about speculation and uncertainty, but can someone point me in the right direction so I can at least make an informed decision?

Uncertainty is part and parcel of any investment, but while the stock market is home to a lot of speculation, there are many who feel that speculation is just shy of gambling, and distinct from investing.

I don't have any real life friends who are investors, either, so I turn to your collective wisdom. Thank you!

A good investment is based on a good, well considered, well informed theory about why the investment is likely to generate a positive return. You are a long way from there, but you might find the journey is its own reward. Good luck.
posted by Good Brain at 3:54 PM on April 29, 2013 [5 favorites]

There is this phrase, "putting all your eggs in one basket".

If you want to invest in an emergency technology (like 3D printers or space elevators or whatever) is essentially betting on a long shots to win. It's possible there will be a 3-D printer on everyone's desk some day (or maybe not) and it's possible the company that is going to put them there is in business in the 3D printer sector right now (or maybe not). The thing is, there are far too many unknowable variables to predict the right company. And even if someone is "the right company" that doesn't mean their stock is going to go through the roof. Look at Facebook's stock price.

Assuming you're young, the prudent investment strategy is to put about 80% into things like mutual funds, or at least a number of different stable companies that are unlikely to take big risks (and fail hard) and then use the remaining 20% or so to build emergent technology portfolio where you invest a little bit in every 3D printer company you can find where it seems like they have half a clue.

The other thing is that a lot of companies are privately owned. I'd love to buy stock in Valve, for example, but they're not publicly traded.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 4:33 PM on April 29, 2013

I have a MendelMax 2.0, which is (as far as I could tell) roughly the best consumer 3D printer right now. Setting it up required about 10 or 20 hours of work, some of it which was incorrectly documented.

It's awesome, and I freaking love it.

But it is really, really early days. It's like trying to call winners in the Internet industry in 1994.
posted by grudgebgon at 5:56 PM on April 29, 2013

Don't try to outsmart the market. Whatever information you obtain, the market already knows and has factored it into the stock price. Sure there are stories of people making a killing on an individual stock, but it's the Las Vegas Effect - you only hear about wins, not losses, and it skews ones perceptions of risk.
posted by Dansaman at 10:05 PM on April 29, 2013

Upon review - "emergent technology". Thanks spell-check.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 10:24 PM on April 29, 2013

Well, since there's a lot of interest in 3-D printing of guns, you could always short gun-makers....

Basically, no. This is something for mad money or for penny stock boiler rooms to pump and dump. If you don't know the people, don't know the industry, and don't know the future, you're nothing but cannon fodder.

Just think about all the people who invested in, I dunno, wireless car phones (pretty much radio party lines with a handset) -- and then came the cell phone. So, so, so many people bought into this or that "personal computer" company back in the early days, each with custom OS software, only to have the least expected competitor in the space be IBM, which ate almost everyone's lunch by building a computer instead of a computer/OS. Rugs get pulled, that's the lesson in this space.
posted by dhartung at 3:28 AM on April 30, 2013

The near term growth for the 3D printing market is in unit prototyping and stuff like that. So if I was going to invest in the technology, I'd find a strong company in the computer controlled manufacturing field that also has a line of 3D printers.

I agree with many of the above posters. It is too early to tell. When companies actually start talking about bringing these things to market and selling them at Best Buy, then you figure out which one will be Google and which will be AltaVista.

If you've ever seen a 3d printer actually working, you will know that desktop use is a long way off. Besides being far more expensive than just buying whatever you are looking for, it is messy and slow. And the material isn't all that strong.
posted by gjc at 6:07 PM on April 30, 2013

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