2 Extremely Expensive 3-D Printers: Are They Worth It?

The industry of 3-D printing has been on fire over the past two years. That's thanks in large part to industry stalwarts Stratasys and 3D Systems . Both companies have turned solid profits for years now while introducing revolutionary new technology to industrial and consumer markets alike.

The stocks of both companies have been on fire since January 2012, far outpacing the S&P 500's return of about 35%

DDD Total Return Price Chart


DDD Total Return Price data by YCharts

This has made the time ripe for smaller players in the 3-D printing field to go public. While investors are willing to pay a premium for companies that develop this technology, it makes financial sense to tap the markets for money to help grow business.

Today, I'm going to take a dive into two of the lesser-known, smaller players in the 3-D printing field: ExOne and Organovo

Company

Specialty

Market Cap

Revenue

Profitable?

Price-to-sales

ExOne

Printing with non-plastic inputs

$800 M

$33.8 M

No

24

Organovo

Bio-printing

$480 M

$1.3 M

No

370

Source: Yahoo! Finance, SEC filings

ExOne
While it might seem hard for 3-D printing companies to find a niche when 3D Systems has been working to corner the consumer field and Stratasys has been aggressively courting industrial clients, ExOne has found a new twist: Offer a device that can print with a dizzying array of inputs.

Source: ExOne.

Currently, ExOne's printers can work with steel, ceramics, sand, glass, and bronze. And soon, ExOne's printers will also be able to produce objects with tungsten carbide, titanium, aluminum, and magnesium. That's an important technology to have, as it moves the idea of 3-D printing from just prototyping and mass-producing of plastic parts to more of a mass-manufacturing model.

ExOne's head start in this field is beginning to gain notice from the competition as well. Just this month, 3D Systems closed its acquisition of Phenix Systems, a company that specializes in printing metal and ceramic parts

At the same time, however, investors need to realize how small operations currently are, and how expensive the stock is. During the first quarter of 2013, ExOne sold only five 3-D printers for $4.2 million -- and during all of 2012, it sold just 13 printers. On one hand, these are extremely small numbers; on the other, it shows just how much room for growth there could be.

Equally important is that the company has generated only $33.8 million in revenue and no profit over the past year yet is valued at roughly $800 million. Short-sellers are well aware of this fact, as 34% of ExOne's float is currently sold short.

Organovo
If printing metal, sand, and glass parts sounds interesting, you'll be blown away by what Organovo hopes to accomplish. Currently, the company uses its Novogen MMX Bioprinter to create "functional human tissues that can be employed in drug discovery and development," according to a company filing.

Source: Organovo. 

But one day, the company hopes to be able to make "therapeutic implants for the treatment of damaged or degenerating tissues and organs." I'm not a medical expert, but this sounds like a best-case scenario if this company is eventually able to, for instance, make a brand-new liver for a patient waiting for a transplant.

With the kind of potential, you can understand why investors are excited. The stock currently trades for a monstrous 370 times revenue, and the stock is incredibly volatile.

Investors should also be aware that over the past 12 months, the company has generated only about $1.3 million in revenue. The average NFL player alone makes more money in a year than this entire company has ever made! And revenue from grants also makes up a large portion of that revenue.

What's a Fool to do?
If this is an industry that interests you, and you like the cutting edge take that Organovo and ExOne are taking, keep up the research. If you decide these are good investments, enter with eyes wide open, and be sure not to allocate more money than you're comfortable with toward the companies.

If you'd like a slightly more stable approach to the field, I suggest you check out "3 Stocks to Own for the New Industrial Revolution." Inside, you'll read up on three well-established, profitable companies that are dominating the 3-D printing field. Two of them are already mentioned in the piece, but one lesser-known player is also included. Just click here to learn more.

The article 2 Extremely Expensive 3-D Printers: Are They Worth It? originally appeared on Fool.com.

Fool contributor Brian Stoffel owns shares of 3D Systems and Stratasys. The Motley Fool recommends 3D Systems, Stratasys, and ExOne; owns shares of 3D Systems and Stratasys; and has options on 3D Systems. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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