The popular press is filled with stories about 3D printing; some sensational, some more factual/measured. Headlines continue to highlight guns made using 3D printers, advances in medicine that make use of 3D printing and 3D printing of everything from food to houses and bridges – and everything in between including 3D clothing. The stories themselves may have their merits, and each news bite gives a snapshot of the current market or how it is growing and will continue to grow, but many of the headlines can be misinterpreted.
For instance, at the moment, the number of 3D printers sold that actually produce food is negligible and it is not yet possible to print complete organs. So, if you are just reading the headlines, you are only seeing part of the Additive Manufacturing/3D-Printing (AM3DP) market.
Likewise, if you are only following the stock prices of pure-play companies in the AM3DP space, then your impression of the market might be significantly different to the reality. Many an article has been written about the disconnect between the ebbs and flows of stock prices and the real and perceived growth of the industry. Investing in 3D Printing has turned out to be a real challenge, since there is little or no correlation between stock prices and industry growth.
A quick examination of the most visible publicly traded 3D Printing companies over recent years indeed shows that they continued to see solid quarter-to-quarter growth in their collective revenues but that their average stock prices went in the opposite direction in 2014. Before this period, there was an even greater spike in average stock prices as expectations for the 30-year-old technology became overinflated as a result of increased visibility brought on by events such as the annual Consumer Electronics Show and the proliferation of 3D-printed gun stories.
New investing challenges arise as market stalwarts Stratasys and 3D Systems reported lower-than-expected earnings again in Q2. Each of these companies, and every company associated with 3D Printing, remains quite bullish on the market, however.