The technology story of 2012 was overwhelmingly "3D Printing". You can imagine all those finance types waking up to the potential of a set of technologies that are 20 years old, but they would never have heard of had it not been for high profile consumer stories such as MakerBot and Shapeways.
The Motley Fool announced in August 2012 that "3D Printing" was the next trillion dollar $1T industry. Then, in November, an analyst appeared to claim that AM giant (and continual acquirer) 3D Systems [DDD] had reported its financial results in a way that had "distorted its growth". DDD stock dipped, but then re-bounded.
Back in April I had noted that an industry consolidating so quickly was not necessarily an indicator of growth potential, but of a shift from products to services as the predominent source of revenue. (Stratasys and Objet Merge). This occurs in industries when tangible products become commodities and companies seek other forms of revenue, or grow through acquisition strategies. The story followed news of another industry merger between 3D Systems and ZCorp.
The rush to find gold in what people think "3D Printing" is, continues apace. Story of the month is the IPO of ExOne. Their shares went on sale to the public on February 7th at an opening price of USD$24.23. By the middle of the next day, the price had risen to USD$33.60, a gain of almost 39%. You can almost feel the sweaty palms of everyone trying to get in on the action.
Commentary flew around the web. Typical of many was this from InvestorPlace:
"As good as it looks, investors should keep their hands off XONE for now. It’s not uncommon for hot IPOs to fizzle a bit, even if the company (and investment) itself is a good one for down the road. And XONE is such an investment. Wait for a pullback, and use XONE to play the 3D printing megatrend."
'Play' is often an investor term for something they know nothing about, but are desperately Seeking Alpha. Alpha is a measure of how much return you receive above what you would normally expect. To put it another way: easy money, real fast.
The question every one should really be asking is whether 3D printing really is the new platform for the much heralded and much needed third industrial revolution?
Rebecca Greenfield writing in AtlanticWire following President Obama's State of the Union address does not think so.
Greenfield's observation that there is no 'Silicon Valley' equivalent for 3D Printing is significant. As we have noted before, 3D printing is not one technology, but many, with little to nothing in common. Nor is it a common technology platform in the way that the Digital Computer was, which spawned a myriad new hardware and software products. Like Greenfield, I am sceptical of the analogy often made with the emergence of the early PC industry. (Hype and Hope in 3D Printing)
So what's the real deal with 3D Printing? That's going to be the focus of this blog into 2013. Let's work it out together.