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The 3-D Revolution

Written By Brian Hicks

Posted August 20, 2011

Welcome to the Wealth Daily Weekend Edition — our insights from the week in investing and links to our most-read Wealth Daily and sister publication articles.

As the markets on Wall and Broad Streets continue to feed the bears with an ongoing downtrend, to the nation’s entrepreneurs, it merely serves as background noise.

The markets do of course matter in the grand scheme of things. But the creative classes continue to do what they have always done, pushing their dreams down the unknown roads.

As with the steam engine and personal computers before them, occasionally an idea comes to light that promises to disrupt practically everything.

They start small at first, usually on the fringes of the larger economy… But before long, they break through the realm of geeks to the consciousness of the broader markets.

Bordering On the Revolutionary

As a writer, I witnessed this firsthand back in the early 90s when laser printers cost more than $5,000. Back then, nobody really understood what they would mean for desktop publishing… but I did.

Coming from an earlier world of newspapers, one where you literally had to cut and paste up your layout, I had seen how computer layout software had completely changed the industry. For desktop publishers, it seemed the laser printer was the last piece of the puzzle.

As these new technologies began to improve — and come down in price — they eventually reached a point of critical mass.

What followed was an explosion of creativity as the power to produce great-looking documents moved from the hands of the few to the hands of the many.

Today, it’s hard to imagine the world without them. And when I look at the possibilities surrounding the latest generation of 3-D printers, I’m reminded of an earlier age. Like laser printers before them, 3-D printers present a whole new world, one that borders on the revolutionary…

Users can design an object on a computer and produce something much more radical than a file or image on a flat page. Hitting the ‘print’ button results in a three-dimensional shape.

Using digital design software, this new breed of printer replicates objects layer by layer — the same way your laser printer creates documents line by line. The material used by the printer is melted down and carefully placed until the object takes on the desired form. Depending on the size and shape, that can take only minutes, or as long as a few hours…

The result is imagination brought to life in a fraction of the time.

Think of it as prototyping for the masses. When you do, you realize that creativity is about to take another leap forward.

Admittedly, it is in the earliest of stages. But the possibilities are endless.

Pushing Boundaries

In practice, researchers are already beginning to push the boundaries of what this new technology has to offer.

The first airplane created entirely by 3-D printing recently took flight. Called the Southampton University Laser Sintered Aircraft, or SULSA, the unmanned model was produced in less than a week, demonstrating that complex machines can be created quickly using this new fabrication process.

With a wingspan of two meters and a top speed of 100 mph, 100% of the plane’s parts were designed and printed to snap together.

For the plane’s designers, the upside was obvious…

According to Jim Scanlon, one of the project’s leads: “The flexibility of the laser-sintering process allows the design team to revisit historical techniques and ideas that would have been prohibitively expensive using conventional manufacturing.”

Needless to say, this could revolutionize the economics of aircraft design.

This new digital age has already attracted new business from a wide range of industries as the price of the technology drops. From $400,000 just five years ago, 3-D printers can be had now for as little as $1,000. That means companies — as well as consumers — will be able to design and produce new products faster and much cheaper in the near future.

In the process, the traditional factory model stands to be changed forever…

Investments in the Future

One company on the forefront of this new paradigm is 3D Systems Corporation (NYSE: DDD).

It’s a company my publisher Brian Hicks introduced me to. Based in Rock Hill, South Carolina, 3D Systems specializes in meeting the needs of companies and consumers alike.

The best part is that it’s growing — and turning a profit. The company has an $800 million market cap, while earnings are estimated to grow 29.75% over the next five years… And that’s on top of earnings that exploded by 1668.19% over the last year.

With a target price of $25.00, that leaves DDD with nearly 56% upside from here. Longer-term, with the growth of the overall space, it could easily go much higher.

No matter how you decide to play it, 3-D printing is definitely a trend worth watching.

After all, anything that affords a large number of people the freedom to think and create is a powerful and irresistible market force… much like the entrepreneurs that bring it to us in the first place.

You can find a few of the week’s best investment ideas in the Wealth Daily and Energy and Capital articles below.

Your bargain-hunting analyst,

 steve sig

Steve Christ
Editor, Wealth Daily


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