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Ten years since 3D printing’s all-time stock market peak. What have we learned?

Additive manufacturing is a tough business but it's not nearly as bad as it looks right now

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Between the end of 2013 and the beginning of 2014, most pure-play 3D printing stocks peaked across various indexes (mostly the NYSE and Nasdaq). Stratasys hit a valuation of nearly $140 (down to about $13 today) while 3D Systems got close to $100 (to about $6 today). Other 3D printing companies followed suit, and some startups like voxeljet and Organovo leveraged the moment to go public and raise the capital needed to develop their business over the next decade.

It did not go as planned. Today most of these companies are struggling more than ever in the stock market. Even as most AM companies have evolved significantly in terms of market presence and installed base, their business and revenues have not grown as significantly. Or not as significantly as investors had hoped. In 2013, Stratasys and 3D Systems had already been public for nearly 20 years. Still, they peaked because some of the original patents expired and all of a sudden 3D printers became available for $1,000 to a much larger demographic of people who all of a sudden learned about 3D printing. The idea that everyone would soon have a 3D printer generated hype, which drove stock prices higher. Eventually, this clashed with the fact that, while everyone could own a 3D printer, very few people would know what to do with it.

History repeated itself more recently, between 2021 and 2022. There, in the wake of the COVID pandemic, once again a larger demographic of potential adopters – this time mostly professionals – became aware of 3D printing as a means to address new challenges in terms of production flexibility and supply chain resiliency. A group of newer companies – mostly service providers and metal 3D printer manufacturers – looked to exploit the newfound interest in AM and went public via SPAC mergers, promising investors that the revolution of additive manufacturing for scaled-up production was within reach. Once again the promise of exponential growth clashed with the real limitations of AM. While large-scale production was possible, via a new generation of faster machines, it was found to be rarely cost-effective.

And yet there are many companies involved in 3D printing – sometimes even as major market players – that are thriving both in the real economy and the financial world. They are usually very large and innovative companies for whom 3D printing is only a marginal business. These include tech companies and software companies as well as material companies and large manufacturers (even medical companies). In many cases, their involvement in 3D printing is an indicator that their strategy is future-ready and that they are ideally positioned to address tomorrow’s challenges.

After a decade of tracking investments in 3D printing and 3D printing-related stocks, let’s take a look at the winners and the ones that taught us a lesson.

Follow the money (and the AM investments)

Some of the best 3D printing-related investments you could have made in 2013 are software and tech companies. Both Autodesk and Dassault Systemes, which produce software used for creating models and producing parts via 3D printing, have enjoyed huge growth, more than quadrupling and even quintupling in value since 2013. They are not alone: other software companies that have taken a keen interest in additive manufacturing, and have done very well in the stock market over the past decade, include Ansys and Hexagon.

These companies are doing well, but the best one overall is NVIDIA: its graphic processors are necessary for machines to visualize and digitize the world in 3D. The company has taken a keen interest in AM, even launching a prototype 3D printer in 2017 and funding rising metal 3D printing company Seurat via NVentures. Since it went public in 2017, NVIDIA stock has grown by around 1000%.

Other excellent investments include companies that have already made 3D printing a part of their innovative production processes, albeit still a small part. Tesla is a particular case because 3D printing has only recently become an integral part of its production workflows. Other automotive manufacturers such as BMW, VW and GM have also made significant and early investments in AM: BMW is trading near its all-time high while VW peaked in 2021 and is currently down by about 50%. GM is interesting because it was near its 10-year low in late 2012 at about $20 and rose to $60 before settling at about $28 today. On the other hand, companies like Jabil, one of the largest contract manufacturers in the world, and Stryker, a global leader in orthopedic implants, have made 3D printing an integral part of their offer and they continue pushing the technology’s development. Both of their stocks are currently trading at or near their all-time highs.

Another great investment you could have made in 2013 is the UK company Renishaw, which was already a leading manufacturer of metal 3D printers at the time. Since then the company’s stock has grown enormously even as it went through a couple of difficult periods and while it’s well below the peak that it hit in 2022, it is still doing very well today.

Money in the safe

Software and tech companies are also present in the list of 3D printing-related companies that represent a safe investment, with more marginal growth but no particular risks. These include companies like Siemens Digital Industries and HP, which have made huge investments in 3D printing (mostly in AM software for Siemens and mostly in AM hardware for HP). They – along with Microsoft which has made more marginal investments – represented a safe bet and are trading higher than in 2013.

The same can be said of another group of companies. These are large hardware and manufacturing companies that have entered the 3D printing market as 3D printer manufacturers, namely GE Additive (which did so in 2016 after acquiring the metal powder-bed 3D printer companies Arcam and Concept Laser), Nikon (which just entered the market last year after acquiring another metal powder-bed based 3D printer company SLM Solutions) and DMG Mori, which developed its own powder-fed (DED) 3D printing technology and acquired powder-bed (L-PBF) 3D printing company Realizer.

All these companies have followed different trajectories: GE struggled because of the rapidly changing energy business which demanded a drastic reorganization of all its businesses but it is back on the upswing now. Nikon only entered the market recently by acquiring a company such as SLM Solutions which had fared rather well as a stand-alone company in the German stock market. However, Nikon’s history as a direct 3D printing market player is a relatively short one. DMG has been steadily growing with moderate swings. The list also includes Siemens Energy (which is split from Siemens Digital Industries) and provides manufacturing services, including AM services and Siemens Digital Industries. Siemens Energy is a major player in the AM industry as an adopter and as a service provider. Its stock is down about 50% from its initial valuation of $20 (when it was separated from Siemens Digital Industries) and even more from its peak valuation of more than $30. However, Siemens Digital Industries, which is also involved in AM, mostly from the software side, is trading at an all-time high.

Another group of public companies that have invested significantly in AM and have steadily grown on the stock market is represented by raw material (gases, metals and polymers) manufacturers. These include Linde (which also acquired Praxair), ATI, Constellium, Carpenter Technologies, Hexcel, Solvay, Arkema and BASF, among others. All of them are actively involved as material suppliers in the additive manufacturing market, many of them in leadership positions, and all of them have steadily grown on different stock markets over the past decade.

Risky business

This takes us to the next section, of companies that are involved – sometimes heavily – in AM and have seen their stocks lose a lot of value from their peak or initial valuation. In most cases, we are talking about relatively small companies for whom 3D printing is a major source of income. In some cases, they’ve often gone through exploits that lasted even a few years but eventually suffered losses like most medium-sized 3D printing-related public companies. Still, their businesses are consolidated (as far as 3D printing companies go) and those exploits can – and probably will – be eventually repeated.

The main category is represented by contract manufacturers and manufacturing service providers. This category includes pioneering companies like Materialise, Protolabs and Xometry. They all offer 3D printing services but do so via different business models. Materialise is almost exclusively focused on 3D printing services (with little or no injection molding and subtractive manufacturing) and also generates significant revenues via its suite of powerful and widely adopted software for 3D printing. Protolabs is an on-demand manufacturer, that combines a large offer of 3D printing capabilities with rapid manufacturing via formative and subtractive technologies. Xometry operates as a network of on-demand manufacturers, leveraging a wide range of 3D printing capabilities to further digitalize its offer. Protolabs and Materialise have been public for longer. They went public respectively in 2012 and 2014, with an initial valuation of $30 and $12 respectively. They both peaked in 2021 at respectively $193 and $77 and are now trading at $40 and $7. Xometry went public in 2021 at about $75, quickly hit $80, and lost most of its value. Now, like it’s trending higher again and is back to about $40.

There is one other public company offering 3D printing services that has been doing very well on the stock market since it went public in 2019. We are talking about Bright Laser Technologies, or BLT, the largest Chinese metal 3D printing company by revenue. BLT produces metal 3D printers and offers production services globally. It’s stock went public at about 34 CNY (about $4.5) and is now worth almost four times as much: 117 CNY ($16).

Another category of companies that are not doing so well right now but have had ups and downs is represented by companies that use 3D printing to develop and produce some of the most advanced and futuristic products that exist. For example, in the commercial space industry, companies like Redwire and Rockelab have made 3D printing an integral part of their approach. Redwire is a space infrastructure company that develops 3D printers to produce parts (including organs and ceramic structures) in zero gravity conditions, on the ISS. Rocket Lab is one of the few companies that regularly launch a payload into orbit and does so with entirely 3D printed rocket engines. Both companies have lost over 50% of their stock value since going public via SPAC a couple of years ago but they continue to generate significant revenue and their potential is huge, much like the potential of 3D printing.

The same can be said of companies working in the field of bioprinting or – more generally – printing with cells. These include first and foremost BICO, a company that has risen from almost nothing and in just a few years became the bioprinting global market leader and more generally a leader in advanced machines for bioengineering. BICO’s stock peaked in 2021-2022 at nearly 600 Swedish Kronas (about 60 USD) and it is now worth about a 10th of that, at 60 Swedish Kronas. Collplant, a specialist in bioprinting and bioinks that partnered with Stratasys on the development of bioprinted breast implants, also lost a lot of value: it peaked when it went public in 2015 at $22.8, it peaked again at $22 in 2021 but it is now worth just around $6.

So far (not) so good

And then we come to the roughest and most unpredictable of 3D printing stocks. Almost all pure-player 3D printing companies have done terribly in the stock market during the past decade. These are just about all 3D printer manufacturers and they are mostly paying for the fact that not that many 3D printers are needed (yet) to revolutionize manufacturing. The most relevant impact of 3D printing to date is provided by the ability to rapidly make prototypes and tools. These capabilities have already dramatically reduced lead times but they are not scalable in terms of 3D printer installations. Only one or at most a handful of 3D printers are needed to make prototypes and tools across huge organizations. And, if a manufacturing company does need a larger batch of final parts – of the right size and complexity that it makes sense to print them – they can always turn to contract manufacturers and external service providers.

Many of these companies’ stock valuations slipped to below 1 dollar which means they risk de-listing. Some of them went public more than two decades ago and experienced a huge peak in 2013. Others went public during the 2013/2014 peak and others yet went public in the 2021-2022 peak period (via SPAC mergers) and have been losing value since.

The most famous – and still current market leader in 3D printing’s real economy – are Stratasys and 3D Systems. Their stock history dates back to the late 1980s/early 1990s. 3D Systems went public in 1988 at around $4 and peaked at $92 at the end of 2013. It then collapsed down to about $10 and peaked again at $40 in 2021. Now it’s back down to below $7. Stratasys went through a similar trajectory, with even more extreme fluctuations. Its stock began at below $2 and reached an incredible valuation of $120 in the 2014 peak, only to collapse back to $25 and then peak again at $52 in 2020. Today it’s worth just under $15 and it’s still not clear which direction it will take next.

The next company to look at is the Israeli company Nano Dimension, which is certainly one of the most complex and difficult to follow. In 2015, Nano Dimension went public via a “reverse merger”, that is it took over a company that was already public instead of going through a standard IPO. As we will see, this is very similar to what happened in 2021-2022 with a series of 3D printing companies going public via SPAC mergers. Initially, Nano Dimension had a stock valuation of about $80 and went all the way up to above 90 before collapsing down to below $1 in 2020.

Until this time, Nano Dimension – which specialized in 3D printers for electronics – had sold just a handful of systems. This is when the new management led by Yoav Stern came in and the stock rose back up to above $15, generating as much as $2 billion in cash for the company to invest. Nano Dimension used some of this cash to acquire a few 3D printing startups and a considerable chunk of Stratasys stocks (becoming Stratasys’ largest single stockholder), then it launched a bid to take over Stratasys altogether but the offer has – so far – been refused. Nano Dimension stock is currently back down to around $2.

Desktop Metal’s binder jetting Production System

The group of companies that went public in 2021/2022, via SPAC, have so far done even worse. Velo3D, Markforged and Desktop Metal all went public at $10 but today they are trading below $1. These are different companies but they are all trying to build a scalable 3D printing production infrastructure with their systems. Their business model is not as flawed as the stock market seems to indicate and they all have significant strengths which have not yet been fully exploited.

Velo3D has revolutionized metal PBF 3D printing by introducing a much easier system to use and drastically reducing the need for supports, while Desktop Metal is the leader in metal binder jetting – an AM technology that many expect to be used in larger production runs – and has acquired leading 3D printing companies in the polymer and ceramic/sand segment. Markforged is the leading manufacturer of 3D printers for composites and is also pushing its bound metal technology. Mostly these companies pay for the fact that most potential adopters are not yet ready to fully scale their internal 3D printing capabilities for part production. And the few who could scale, have already done so. Will this change in the near future? Probably not as fast as Wall Street analysts and investors would like. But never say never in AM.

ICP production line at BMW Group Plant Landshut in Germany.

There are a few other 3D printing companies worth mentioning that are struggling in terms of stock valuation. One of the most unexplainable is voxeljet. This German startup company’s stock went public on the Nasdaq, just ahead of the 2013 peak, for $144 (considering a later reverse 10×1 stock split). Today it’s worth just $1.2 and yet its giant machines are used by some of the biggest companies in the world for sand casting.

French company Prodways is trading on the Euronext Paris and has followed a very different trajectory but its valuation is also down to €9 from an initial peak valuation of about $7. The company has drastically reviewed its business model, moving away from larger printers to focus on smaller dental and SLS machines, but it can also rely on the support of its mother company Group Gorgè.

Terrible investments

Some even worse investments should mentioned. One is Fathom, a pioneering 3D printing service provider for industrial users, with an established business as a contract manufacturer. However, the company went public in 2020 via an SPAC merger to raise money and scale. Initially, it had a valuation of $10 per stock and peaked in 2021 at $54. Now it’s trading at around $4 but it also incurred a $1.19 billion goodwill impairment.

Shapeways, another 3D printing service provider with a valid real business targeting both consumers and professionals with on-demand manufacturing, also went public via SPAC, looking to scale and promising exponential growth, especially via a software platform. Unfortunately, this vision has not yet materialized and the company had to undergo a reverse stock split. Taking that into account, Shapeways had an initial and highest stock valuation of $80, which collapsed in late 2021. Today it is trading at just above $2.

One of the worst possible investments ever is Organovo. It was the first pure bioprinting company to go public with a valuation of $49 (taking into account the 1X20 reverse stock split that the company underwent in 2020). Today Organovo is no longer involved in bioprinting and is trading at just above $1. And then there Steakholder Foods: one of several companies that looks to mass 3D bioprint steaks from cells and the only one that has gone public. It went public in 2021 at $10 and it is now trading just above $0.5. Nevertheless, the company continues to make progress in a very interesting segment with significant potential to change the food industry.

3D printing futures

Is 3D printing doomed? We don’t think so (full disclosure, the author owns almost all of the stocks mentioned in this article). The fact that large companies that have made investments in AM are doing well or extremely well is an indication that AM’s impact goes beyond the (still very disappointing) results that AM pure players can achieve, both economically and financially. We believe we are still at a very early stage of AM’s growth cycle. Some consolidation will occur and some companies will risk going out of business. However, if their technologies are sound, they will eventually emerge.

Formlabs Automation Ecosystem introduced at CES 2023. Featuring Form Auto, Fleet Control, and the High Volume Resin System.

Despite all this, going public is going to continue to be a risky way for new and established AM companies to raise money and scale. Only a handful of private companies can compete in the global AM scenario. One of these is the German company EOS. It should be noted that its conservative approach has so far enabled the company to remain very stable and solid but it has also slowed down its growth. Another much younger and much less established German company, BigRep, is about to take the SPAC route and will be going public next year, one of the first polymer AM companies to do so in a long time.

US company Formlabs may be following. However in this case we are talking about a company that has few competitors in its price segment and has already sold thousands of 3D printers worldwide. It could turn out to be a valid investment, if and when that happens. However, even formlabs has not yet shown it can truly scale into generating billions in revenue (which is what stock market investors want). Carbon could have been another candidate to go public in 2024 but the company has been very quiet in recent months. Only time will tell if that’s a good or bad sign.

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Davide Sher

Since 2002, Davide has built up extensive experience as a technology journalist, market analyst and consultant for the additive manufacturing industry. Born in Milan, Italy, he spent 12 years in the United States, where he completed his studies at SUNY USB. As a journalist covering the tech and videogame industry for over 10 years, he began covering the AM industry in 2013, first as an international journalist and subsequently as a market analyst, focusing on the additive manufacturing industry and relative vertical markets. In 2016 he co-founded London-based VoxelMatters. Today the company publishes the leading news and insights websites and, as well as VoxelMatters Directory, the largest global directory of companies in the additive manufacturing industry.

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