Estimating 3D Printing Costs in 2019

People have been talking excitedly about the possibilities of 3D printing ever since the devices became commercially popular over the last decade.

Considering the virtually endless printing possibilities that the technology provides, it can be hard not to get excited. From 3D printing things like clothing, coffee mugs, machinery parts, and children’s toys, to more abstract objects like musical instruments, dental implants, and models of live fetuses, there are a lot of interesting things that these machines can do.

Meanwhile, the additive manufacturing (AM) industry as a whole continues booming. It has a current estimated valuation of over $9 billion. According to forecasts made by the 2019 Wohler’s report, that number is expected to grow to $15.8 billion in 2020, and more than double by 2024 to $35.6 billion.

Today, sales of all 3D printers are increasing while the capabilities of the technology are evolving to new heights. But when it comes to estimating the overall costs of utilizing a 3D printer for oneself, there are a few additional expenses to consider alongside the price of the machine alone.

How Much Does a 3D Printer Cost?

There are many different types of 3D printers available, all of which cater to different kinds of users. Some are made for the broad at-home 3D printing of small objects, while others are built large enough to serve niche commercial purposes—like printing massive construction materials.

As such, there’s a wide range of options of 3D printers to consider. Even so, none of them are particularly cheap. At the same time, as the AM industry advances, the cost of both devices and materials are becoming more affordable.

Commercial 3D Printer Prices

Commercial printers provide the most diverse, and expensive, 3D printing options due to their better overall performance. That said, it’s common to see smaller models costing roughly $1000. Room-sized devices can cost millions.

Depending on what’s required from a 3D printer, they could also cost anything in between. So, personal research is necessary. For instance, if a business needs to mass-produce machine parts at a rapid rate, they can expect a much steeper price than a startup that only needs a 3D printer to produce their prototypes at casual speeds.

Consumer 3D Printer Prices

3D printers for hobbyists and at-home use are much more affordable, averaging about $700 a unit.

Some of the lowest costing options are priced at just $200, with higher-end models being sold in the thousands. The difference in quality between the tiers usually speaks for itself.

Entry-level printers are slower, less precise, and generally can only print smaller items. On the other hand, the most expensive machines for enthusiasts offer significantly better printing resolutions, production times, and build volumes.

Material Costs

The first ongoing costs of 3D printing after purchasing a machine are the production materials.

Naturally, the type of printer being used and the project at hand will dictate what type of resource will be necessary. Printing materials typically include powders, filaments, metal powders, and resins, all ranging at different prices depending on their quality.

For some rough numbers, filaments used in home printers, like carbon fiber, usually cost between $20 to $70 per kilogram. Resins tend to average around $50 per liter, though the most expensive kinds can reach up to $500. Powders, like nylon, often cost between $45 to $75 per kilogram, though metal powders go anywhere between $350 and $500.

Like the printers themselves, material expenses for 3D printing differ depending on each user’s goals. To estimate a total, one must research the material requirements for each part and determine their desired level of product quality.

Operational Expenses

With a device in hand and the correct materials in place, there are still a few ways 3D printers will cost money.

For businesses especially, the cost of time and labor must be taken into account. Meaning, the time it takes for printers to finish fabricating layers and the actual labor of adjusting and cleaning parts. This doesn't include the time it takes to program the printer correctly.

On top of that, there are general maintenance costs that every user should keep in mind. For, like all machinery, 3D printers depreciate in performance under wear and tear.

Lastly, there are the post-processes to account for. This final step can be the most expensive part of 3D printing, sometimes tripling the cost of the initial print job. Post processes include everything from polishing printed materials, applying heat treatments, painting, and the addition of outside parts if necessary.

A Second Option to Self-Printing: Outsourced 3D Printing

For those who want to take advantage of 3D printing technology, but don’t have the time or resources to invest in their own operation, there are services out there that can do it instead.

Fictiv is a prime example of one such service. Personal 3D printing designs and project ideas can be submitted for production and delivery through the company's website. It allows users to choose between general printing methods and material qualities as well, making it a highly customizable alternative to 3D printing objects at home.

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