"It's already the future!"
-- My visionary 8-year-old son, Andrew
So you think that 3-D printing is something straight out of a science fiction movie? Future generations might boldly print items no man has printed before, but in this lifetime we're surely stuck making things the hard way. Sending computer designs to a machine that whisks solid items out of thin air is just a silly dream so far.
But then you'd be wrong.
3-D printers are already quite usable to solve real-world problems, and prices are dropping rapidly into consumer-friendly territory to boot.
Speaking of boots, let me point you to a brilliant example of 3-D printers in action. How would you like to print out a sprinting shoe, customized for your own foot, and shave more than 3% off your 100-meter dash time? At truly elite levels, that's often enough to be the difference between winning a gold medal and missing the podium altogether.
That's what a French-born Ph.D. student at London's Royal College of Art claims to have done. For his dissertation, he worked closely with anatomy and engineering experts to come up with ideal shoe designs for every type of foot, plus the 3-D printing know-how to produce these ultra-personalized items.
The shoe, modestly christened "Designed to Win" and weighing in at just 96 grams per spiked golden clog, has been tested on world-class athletes and might make an appearance at the 2016 Olympic games -- this summer's event is too close to get the darn things approved by the competition's regulators. But don't cry for Luc Fusaro -- he helped design the victory podium where this year's sprinters (and other athletes) will step up to receive their medals.
Fusaro's shoe is whisked into existence by way of selective laser sintering, a method espoused by 3D Systems (NYS: DDD) and privately held EOS. This method uses lasers to fuse material particles together, as opposed to the more traditional printer-like controlled spray of melted material used by Stratasys (NAS: SSYS) . Though Fusaro picked sintering for this project, both approaches pack a punch. Like your unique feet, each approach just needs to meet up with the right problem and then you're cooking with gas.
That's why our Rule Breakers newsletter recommends buying Stratasys while the Stock Advisor team prefers 3D Systems. Learn all about the new industrial revolution in this special report -- free for a limited time!
At the time thisarticle was published Fool contributorAnders Bylundholds no position in any of the companies mentioned. Check outAnders' holdings and bio, or follow him onTwitterandGoogle+. The Fool owns shares of and has written calls on 3D Systems.Motley Fool newsletter serviceshave recommended buying shares of Stratasys and 3D Systems. The Motley Fool has adisclosure policy.We Fools may not all hold the same opinion, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. Try any of our Foolish newsletter servicesfree for 30 days.