3D Printers for Everyone?

(Photo: Creative Tools)

We’ve blogged before about the potential of 3D food printers, but at the moment such printers seem out of reach for the average consumer. Perhaps not for long — a new paper by B.T. Wittbrodt, A.G. Glover, J. Laureto, G.C. Anzalone, D. Oppliger, J.L. Irwin, and J.M. Pearce conducts a cost-benefit analysis of 3D printers for the average household:

This study reports on the life-cycle economic analysis (LCEA) of RepRap technology for an average U.S. household.  A new low-cost RepRap is described and the costs of materials and time to construct it are quantified.  The economic costs of a selection of twenty open-source printable designs (representing less than 0.04% of those available), are typical of products that a household might purchase, are quantified for print time, energy, and filament consumption and compared to low and high Internet market prices for similar products without shipping costs.  The results show that even making the extremely conservative assumption that the household would only use the printer to make the selected twenty products a year the avoided purchase cost savings would range from about $300 to $2,000/year.  Assuming the 25 hours of necessary printing for the selected products is evenly distributed throughout the year these savings provide a simple payback time for the RepRap in 4 months to 2 years and provide an ROI between>200% and >40%.  As both upgrades and the components that are most likely to wear out in the RepRap can be printed and thus the lifetime of the distributing manufacturing can be substantially increased the unavoidable conclusion from this study is that the RepRap is an economically attractive investment for the average U.S. household already. It appears clear that as RepRaps improve in reliability, continue to decline in cost and both the number and assumed utility of open-source designs continues growing exponentially, open-source 3-D printers will become a mass-market mechatronic device.

(HT: Marginal Revolution)

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  1. Matt says:

    You just published that article to use the word “mechatronic”. Tell the truth.

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  2. Marc says:

    And what are those 20 items in the sample?

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  3. Jen says:

    I went to the article and hunted down the list of twenty items. Really, this article only makes any sense at all if that list really corresponds to $300-$2000 worth of items over that time frame.

    Hahahahahahahaha.

    Shower curtain rings, spoon rest, “calipers,” and accessories like stands for your apple products?

    The only thing on there that MIGHT pay you back is orthotics and I imagine you’d need more than just the 3-D printer to make acceptable ones.

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    • Phil says:

      I just read it too. What is important is the aggregate value of 20 or more products not single products that have to pay it back to make sense. No one expects most investments to payback immediately. Now it looks like only 20 things can pay for a 3d printer — obviously you can print more than those – or more valuable things than shower curtain hooks.

      These ROIs are huge – at least double digits. Question: If you have the money to buy a 3D printer – or at least the parts – why would you accept the paltry returns from the bank?

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      • Enter your name... says:

        The ROI is only huge if you need those things. I’ve already got shower curtain rings and spoon rests and a perfectly good basket for apples.

        I’m trying to remember the last couple of plastic things I bought. There were some clips to hold bags shut. And… um… and… well, there was a $10 toy a few months ago that was partly plastic, does that count? The other “plastic” items have only been containers for real things, like soap. So my actual expenses on plastic stuff this year has come to maybe $20 so far. At that rate, even if I could print every plastic item I buy in a year, it would take many years to get a return on my investment in a 3d printer.

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  4. JL says:

    What will this do to the economy of the marketplace? If every household made their own little plastic widgets what would be the cost to Target and Walmart and the container ships and the loading dock workers and the assembly line workers? In that lies the better Freakonomics imho.

    Heck some even say that we keep peace with China because we want cheap widgets, could this bring a war with China?

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  5. James says:

    Is it just me, or does that journal really, really need to hire a competent web designer?

    I would have liked to look at the paper to see which 20 items they think the average household would use enough of to make household 3D printing economically viable. I actually can’t think of anything myself. I mean, shower curtain rings? How often does anyone buy those, maybe once every few decades?

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  6. Eric M. Jones says:

    I actually have done CAD design stuff for decades and believe the attempt to foist 3D printers on everyone to be utterly mad. Just who do they think their customers are?

    You think the cost of ink for 2D printers is extortion? Wait to you run out of 3D printer supplies!

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  7. Tom says:

    I’d like to see those economists put together a RepRap successfully in the time they’ve estimated and then print the 20 objects mentioned in those 25 hours. I invested approximately 14 hours in attempting to print simple objects like the ones on the list of 20 (mine included a case for my phone among other things) and only successfully printed 1 object. On a brand new machine that a reputable company assembled for me (makerbot) – I had worlds of trouble getting any level of reliability. I was forced to toss out at least 10 attempts at printing throughout the process. Moreover, I’m a computer savy millenial. Understanding the software behind the machine took no time – it’s rather intuitive if you’re only downloading pre-made designs. This analysis does convincingly argue that the price point isn’t the problem as many have suggested, but I think their estimates suffer from the planning falacy (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Planning_fallacy).

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  8. Paul says:

    Geesh, if people print their own shower curtain rings then guys like Del Griffith will be out of a job!

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