Is investing in 3D printer a good choice? Does it save you money? If yes, does the amount of money saved enough to pay back itself? Research says yes.
These has been the questions for those who are looking to invest in a 3D printer but worry that it will end up as a bad investment.
Even though 3D printers these days are getting cheaper and cheaper, which indicates getting a return on investment from a 3D printer is getting easier, most people are still not convinced to get a 3D printer for themselves, worry that they would not get a return from it.
If you are one of those, good news for you, because an associate professor from Michigan Technological University, Joshua Pearce, conducted a research to determine if a 3D printer could eventually pay itself. And the answer, is a yes.
The full research paper can be found here.
We understand that the paper is very lengthy and some numbers are not that intuitive. Therefore, we will summarize and explain some of the main discoveries from the research.
How Much and How Fast is the Return?
The research is based on a list of household items that can be 3D printed. The cost of the 3D printed parts (including the price of plastic and electricity) is then compared to the price of the actual household items that can be bought.
The price of the items are separated into low-cost and high-cost estimates. The calculation is then based on the assumption that the 3D printer will print one item each week.
The main findings of the research are as follow,
1. With low-cost estimates, the printer pays for itself and all the associated cost (such as plastic and electricity) in 3 years, along with an additional 25% return on investment. After 5 years, the return on investment is more than 100%.
2. With high-cost estimates, the printer pays for itself and all the associated cost within six months. After 5 years, you’ve saved more than 12000USD.
Joshua Pearce says that 5 years life cycle for a 3D printer is reasonable. In fact, parts from the 3D printer which is likely to break are mostly 3D printable.
Is It Applicable to Anyone?
Since the research is focused on household items, the findings should be applicable to anyone. In fact, they believe most people will eventually have a 3D printer at home in the future.
Joshua Pearce believes user do not need to be tech geeks to reap the rewards of 3D printing. Also, most of the household items that can be 3D printed can be easily downloaded online.
Joshua Pearce had an undergraduate student who never used a 3D printer, who managed to print 26 random projects based on freely available design. This shows that 3D printers are accessible to the average consumers.
As technology develops and more printable designs become freely available online, 3D printing should only get easier. Therefore, saving money with 3D printing should be applicable to everyone.
How Can I Save Money with 3D Printing?
For consumers, if you own a 3D printer, you can save some money by printing out anything that you need to buy (if the material suits the application). This is because the material cost for the printed parts are usually cheaper than the actual part you need to buy (especially if you add the cost of petrol for you to drive to the place to buy).
However, it might be a bit hard to even think a way of using the 3D printer to print the parts in the beginning since our brains are hardwired to just buy the items we need, instead of 3D printing the items.
Therefore, we will be giving 3 things/situations which is suitable for you to 3D print the items. If it so happens that the item matches any of these three, you will tell yourself, “let’s 3D print this!”
1. 3D Print Everyday Household Items
There are a lot of household items that we use, from kitchen accessories such as spoon holder, wine bottle holder, small shelves and racks, to bathroom accessories such as toothbrush holder, showerhead, door stop, faucet knob covers and many more.
Most of these household items (and many more not mentioned) are necessary and will require us to purchase it from local stores. However, these household items are usually just made out of plastic, moulded into specific shapes to carry out its task. This sounds like a job 3D printing can do.
Exactly, just 3D print all these everyday household items. It will save you some money since the printed parts are usually cheaper than buying from local store.
Besides that, if any of these items spoiled, you do not need to rush to the store to get another one (or buy a bunch of spares for in case it spoils again), just 3D print it whenever you need it.
Worry that 3D design will stop you? No worries, there are lots of websites out there with ready-made 3D models for these household items. The number of designs in these platforms are continuously increasing day after day, which means that it will get easier every day to find the design you require.
2. 3D Print Your Broken Parts
Did one of the gears in your blender spoiled? You are not sure where to find that gear and even if you found the spare, it is not that cheap? You got no choice but to buy a new blender? Just 3D print that gear.
One of the plastic parts of your bag spoiled? You love that bag so much and you couldn’t find any other bag as nice as that? 3D print and replace that broken plastic part.
You noticed your hand drill is not working, and found out it was just one of the damaged plastic part causing it? Buying another hand drill is too expensive? 3D print that plastic part.
You get the idea, if any small part of a big system is damage, you can always 3D print that small part and the whole thing will work again.
Besides that, it also promotes the idea of reuse of items whenever possible. Therefore, reducing items which may end up in the landfill, and reduces the unnecessary material usage, making Earth more sustainable.
For such cases, it may be hard to find the ready-made model for that specific part and you may need to design one yourself. But fear not, we have written a complete article on how to use one of the easiest 3D design tool.
The article guides you from start (creating an account) to finish (walk-through all the tools and every settings in the 3D design tool) of using the tool. Therefore, you will master 3D design in no time.
3. 3D Print Custom Parts
Does the phone holder in your car works fine but it just doesn’t look as nice or work as you wish? You had some specific ideas on the phone holder you desire but you cannot find it anywhere? Then 3D print your own custom phone holder.
Same for the bottle holder in your car but it just doesn’t hold all bottle sizes well? 3D print one that fits the size of the bottle you use often.
You want the remote control for your television to always be near to it but not sure where to put? 3D print a custom tray for the remote control that fits onto the television rack.
There is just always some complains about your cloth hanger but you couldn’t find one that is perfect? 3D print the design you desire.
Or just a personal project which you just couldn’t such any parts which will work and fit to your project? 3D print that particular part based on your project.
You saw a random life hacks video on youtube, but found out they used 3D printing to make the parts and you cannot find those parts anywhere? Well, 3D print it.
Basically if you have bought everything you needed and nothing is spoiled, but there are parts which does not fit your situation or you just have an idea of making it better, you can just 3D print it.
In other words, if standardization just always seems to be not your game as you always tend to need parts not available in the market, then 3D print them.
You can find such parts available in some websites since there are a lot of 3D designers tend to do similar life hacks or improvements to existing products to make their life easier.
If you couldn’t find any design available online that suits exactly your design, you can always design it yourself using some really easy to use 3D design tools.
If you are interested, you can watch this video by Devin Montes from Make Anything on three ways 3D printing had saved him money.
According to the research of an associate professor from Michigan Technological University, Joshua Pearce, owning a 3D printer can indeed save you money by using it to 3D print household items.
At the rate of printing one item per week, the 3D printer could pay for itself in approximately 3 years, or in some situation, within 6 months, depending on the items printed. And you will be getting returns for anything printed after the printer pays itself.
Due to its ease of use and freely available 3D design, using 3D printing to save money is applicable to everyone, not just through 3D printing household items, but also by 3D printing broken parts and custom parts.
Besides that, doing so will reduce unnecessary material waste and transportation (drive on your own or products shipped to you) which will improve the environmental condition of the Earth.
We believe there are many more ways to make full use of 3D printing to save us some money. Let us know in the comments below what other ways can we use 3D printing to save money.