NewsAdditive manufacturing (aka 3D printing) is hot right now, making appearances in the US President’s State of the Union speech, popular crime-fighting TV shows and all over social media. But is it just hype over something about-to-happen, or are companies actually buying the machines and materials?

We heard from 3D Systems a couple of weeks ago that printer (and other product, but primarily printer) revenue was up 61% in 2012 as the company and its acquisitions in 2011 and 2012 released new products that were faster, cheaper to operate and more reliable. For 2013, 3D Systems sees total revenue of between $440 million and $485 million, or an increase of 24% to 37%. This total does include planned contributions from acquisitions outside rapid prototyping, so isn’t pure 3D prototyping.

But 3D Systems isn’t the only company selling printers and the materials needed for production — are they seeing similar growth?

3D Systems’ additive manufacturing solutions compete against those from Stratasys (which recently acquired Objet), ExOne, Mcor, Makerbot, EnvisionTEC and others — but only Stratasys and ExOne are publicly traded.

Stratasys reported Q4 and full-year 2012 results before markets opened this morning. Since the Object merger closed on December 1, 2012, almost all of the growth was organic. For the year, Stratasys reported revenue of $359 million, up 30% over last year. The company declined to provide organic growth information for either business in Q4, which annoyed analysts on the call, and said it will not provide splits going forward.

For the combined entity, Erez Simha, COO Israel and CFO, said that systems revenue was up 33% and consumable revenue up 26% to a combined total of $306 million. Redeye, the parts-on-demand service saw revenue up 24%. Unit sales were up 29% in 2012, to 4,551 — with a total cumulative sales of 29,816 Stratasys systems since inception.

Stratasys also provided guidance for 2013 year of revenues of $430 million to $445 million, up over 20% when compared to 2012 with one month of Objet. Mr. Simha said that he expects sales in 2013 to be stronger in the second half, as the channel begins selling the combined portfolio of Objet and Stratasys products. He didn’t highlight any specific verticals, other than to say that the company is in the early stages of selling into many verticals.

CEO David Reis explained Stratasys’ strategy this way: He sees a huge opportunity to change the way products are conceived, designed and made. He said that there are 40 million CAD seats in use worldwide, with over 5 million 3D CAD seats, yet fewer than 50,000 professional 3D printers were sold through the end of 2011. Mr. Reis says that Stratasys has the opportunity to sell existing and to-be-developed systems to these users as part of a multiyear strategy to bring systems at various price points, complexity and material costs to the market.

ExOne focuses on rapid prototyping systems that use foundry-grade sand, stainless steel, bronze, steel and glass for printing, rather than polymers or paper. The company just completed its initial public offering (IPO) and is still small (total revenue of $15.9 million for the nine months ended September 30, 2012) but did see revenue jump 27% in the first nine months of last year. The company raised $95 million in the IPO, reflecting investor interest and confidence in rapid prototyping. ExOne rang the opening bell on the NASDAQ last month; at the event Ken Rockwell, chairman and CEO, told investors that the IPO recapitalization lets the company move forward with R&D and channel expansion with the goal of starting to bring back much of the manufacturing that had gone overseas in recent years. ExOne hasn’t set a date for a December 2012 earnings release.

What does it all mean? Two big companies, 3D Systems and Stratasys, are duking it out with broad product lines. ExOne and Mcor bring very different realizations of the 3D printing concept to market. Makerbot and 3D Systems target the consumer market. New types of users, new materials, new verticals like fashion … The benefits of seeing, touching and manipulating a design concept or having a purpose-fabricated object to hand almost immediately will drive adoption of these technologies, the only question is the timeline.

I think there are closer to 3 million 3D CAD seats out there and don’t think every CAD user will be able to justify a dedicated rapid prototyping system, but there’s no reason to think that a system per workgroup is out of reach. 3D Systems mentioned C-level interest as driving growth in additive manufacturing in 2013 while Stratasys spoke of the CAD users — totally different approaches to the market. I’ll be watching this year to see which approach, if any, succeeds when many companies are closing their wallets because they’re unsure of what’s coming.

What do you think? Do you use a rapid prototyping system? Which one? Why?