Camtek is not a 3D Printing Stock

One company that has recently decided to throw its hat into the 3D printing space is Camtek (NASDAQ:CAMT) with statements made in their Q3 2013 results discussion as follows:

“And we are expecting our long-term growth plans to mature with the plant launch of 3D inkjet solder mask printer next year…we expect to start test at a customer site within eight to 12 weeks it has been a long way in getting to this point… this 3D solder mask printing technology will expand out addressable market by an additional $600 million to $700 million…”

No more than a few paragraphs of statements using the term 3D printing created a frenzy of speculation driving Camtek’s share price up over +70% yesterday alone with some newsletters even using comparable 3D printing multiples to imply that CAMT should still increase by more than 200-300% still. Is this recent price increase for Camtek merited?

3D Printing Defined

3D printing is defined by the ability to create 3 dimensional solid objects from a digital model using various materials such as plastics, metals, or ceramics. Companies such as Xone, 3D Systems, and Stratasys all manufacture printers that produce 3D dimensional objects, a market with projected growth of CAGR 20-25% for the next 7 years. This perceived growth is what justifies such lofty valuations for these companies. Other companies such as Hewlett Packard or Xerox build printers that apply ink onto a substrate. These would be considered 2D printers. If the ink were replaced with glue, solder, or metal such that it was raised off the surface of the substrate, it would still be considered 2D printing. These companies have much lower valuations because perceived growth is not so high.

Printed Circuit Boards

At an industrial scale, circuit boards have been printed for decades now using various techniques. The appeal of a desktop printer that can “print” printed circuit boards is flexibility, the ability to print in small lots, and the ability perhaps to print on a variety of substrates. “Printing” circuits in this manner is 2 dimensional and the methods are hardly new having been around for decades.

Camtek

Camtek sells automated solutions that enhance production processes for the semiconductor manufacturing and packaging, the printed circuit board (PCB) and integrated circuit (IC) substrate industries. Camtek currently has a product called the Greenjet which is an inkjet solder mask deposition system. It is described as “…completely replacing conventional coating, drying, exposure and development processes currently used in printed circuit board manufacutring… the fist ever single-step digital solder mask deposition system… with just one push of a button, solder mask is being jetted with high registration accuracy..”

Greenjet

This is a very appealing value proposition but hardly new. This inkjet solder mask printer was first introduced in 2007 as seen below:

Greenjet_Printar
Source: PCB007

Conclusion

Camtek acquired the Greenjet when they purchased Printar for $2.5 million in 2009. If the above product which has been around for 6 years had a name change from “Camtek’s digital inkjet solder mask printing system” to “Camtek’s 3D inkjet solder mask printer” would this mean the company is now a 3D printing company? Other than some vague statements in an earnings call discussion, investors should expect much more information before considering this a 3D Printing investment opportunity, specifically just how 3D printing can be applied to printed circuit boards when this has been a 2 dimensional process for decades. Where will the growth opportunity come from? Speculators on the other hand, both long and short, may enjoy some quick gains around the hype generated so far.

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