The broad range of possibilities a 3D printer offers is not clear to most people. This results in the most important question of all: Does a 3D printer at home pay off? The answer to this is “yes”, at least if you believe an American study.
The article with the title “Emergence of Home Manufacturing in the Developed World: Return on Investment for Open Source 3‑D Printers”. The researchers included cheap as well as expensive products from a variety of suppliers and for a variety of applications. Although the product sound extremely simple and straightforward in the paper, it takes a lot of time and ideas.
They looked at a period of 5 years and calculated the cost difference. For example, costs for object A were compared between the 3D printed and conventional prices. The result: a return of investment larger than 100% after 5 years (investing $500 and saving $1000).
Does a 3D printer pay off and what objects are being printed?
A few of the following example prints illustrate the work of the scientists at Michigan Technological University. It is important to mention, however, that some assumptions have been made and complex matters disregarded. For example, although you can print a cell phone case, the quality and feeling are completely different even with flexible material. Therefore, even most makers still buy phone cases instead of printing them out.
Other Object examples are:
- Spoon holders
- Parquet corners
- Glass holders
- Mobile Phone Case
- Ski mount for GoPro
(to what extent a person trusts his GoPro 3‑dimensionally printed product remains open for each person)
Criticism of the study: Is a 3D printer profitable?
Although we want to emphasize the statement that 3D printers are profitable and not just a toy, our blog post should not be one-sided. In the end, a 5 year profitability will be barely sustainable due to defects or completely new product generations (features). You do not always need the latter, but there is insufficient knowledge about future innovation and their effects on the current products. Furthermore, it is difficult to evaluate one’s own usefulness and knowledge for personalized 3D printed objects. For one, not everyone has the imagination about the printing possibilities and most cannot design customized objects for their own needs.
Another point is that the researchers did not consider people who will still prefer traditionally produced products despite having a 3D printer. Let’s say someone needs a sleeve for his phone and designs as well as prints a case. However, this it will likely be too hard and not fit the mobile phone. After a second attempt, the user decides to buy a high-quality case around the corner in the store. You see, in some cases people lose time and money with 3D printing which is why adjustments must be made in the approach of the study.
Positive aspect of the study
To correct and analyze the question of “Profitable 3D printers” we have to break the usual silo thinking. Companies must stop thinking of their own 3D printing experience which is far from the actual customer’s level. Therefore, we find it extremely positive that the authors Emilia E. Petersen and Joshua Pearce took the disadvantages of a beginner into account.
A person who only starts with 3D printing cannot keep up with an experienced maker, as it requires a lot of training and practice. For this reason, the researchers let novices test and used these observations in form of data within the study. For this reason, we believe the article is representative of the total population in Western countries with regards to the understanding of the technology.
Conclusion: Does a 3D printer really pay off?
This article on the profitability of 3D printing is an important piece of work, drawing a picture of the future with 3D printers in our homes. We welcome the efforts for quantitative analysis in this area and hope for more works in this direction. Nevertheless, the study still has improvement potentials as they did not include price, quality and convenience factors for the comparison between conventional and 3D printing objects.
The next step may be a study that allows candidates to choose between different solutions with regards to quality, price and convenience. This gives researchers more realistic values than the current theoretical numbers not including the decision factor.
Another possible assessment could also be long-term learning effects and benefits of the technology for yourself or children. This has also been the case with computers over the last few decades. This is just an idea that we wanted to share with researchers and Makers in our community.
If you have any questions or comments, feel free to text us via the comment section below or our contact form.