Should I Invest in a 3-D Printer?

Admit that you never thought to say: “We need to save money, let’s invest in a 3-D printer”! But just because you didn’t think of it doesn’t mean the statement is not true.

A few months ago Professor Joshua Pearce of Michigan Technological University made a study to investigate how economical it would be for a household to have a 3-D printer.

In order to gather data he asked a student named Emily Peterson to use a 3-D printer with no previous experience using one and with no previous training on how to use it either.  Peterson said “I never used a 3-D printer before this; I thought it would take me forever to learn how to use it and I was happy to find that it’s really easy!”

Peterson used an inexpensive 3-D printer called Lulzbot Mini. It took her a half an hour to get it working and then Peterson looked in search engines for files on line to print items with the 3-D printer. She found 26 common items. She said “You just look, choose and then press print, just like at work you’re your computer and home printers.” Her favorite printed item was a crafted flower pot with a Pokemon motif in which she planted a cactus and gave it to her mother.

Pearce believes these 26 items are an average of what a family would print in a year including things like: Shower heads, pins and holders for various utensils. Pearce and Peterson then calculated the value of the printed items estimating both the low end and the high end of the price spectrum. For example, printing a cell phone pouch was compared with purchasing an inexpensive pouch and an expensive one. Printing saved 93% of the value of an inexpensive item and 98.65% of purchasing an expensive item.

“When comparing to inexpensive purchases the 3-D printer pays itself back in 3 years including the cost of printing and even provides a net savings of 25%. At the end of five years the net savings is over 100%. When comparing with more expensive purchases the printer pays for itself in a half a year and after 5 years not only covers all expenses but yields a net savings of over $12,000” Pearce explains. The normal life expectancy for such a printer is 5 years.

Pearce points out that these calculations are based on the printing of simple and popular items and not the printing of complex scientific specialty equipment.


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