Household 3D printers pay for themselves in short order

Life-cycle economic analysis of distributed manufacturing with open-source 3-D printers (paywall link), a new paper published in Mechatronics, examines the cost of common household objects and calculates the projected return-on-investment for a household that buys a 3D printer and makes their own everyday objects, using open design files from sites like Thingiverse, rather than buying them in shops. The researchers concluded that a family could quickly -- in less than "a few years" -- recoup the cost of the printer if they printed their everyday objects. I suspect that the real value of 3D printers isn't simply replacing household objects, but rather, in ushering in new ways of relating to objects -- the same way that email and VoIP don't simple substitute for phone calls, but rather enable entirely different kinds of communications.

In the study, Pearce and his team chose 20 common household items listed on Thingiverse. Then they used Google Shopping to determine the maximum and minimum cost of buying those 20 items online, shipping charges not included.

Next, they calculated the cost of making them with 3D printers. The conclusion: it would cost the typical consumer from $312 to $1,944 to buy those 20 things compared to $18 to make them in a weekend.

Open-source 3D printers for home use have price tags ranging from about $350 to $2,000. Making the very conservative assumption a family would only make 20 items a year, Pearce’s group calculated that the printers would pay for themselves quickly, in a few months to a few years.

The group chose relatively inexpensive items for their study: cellphone accessories, a garlic press, a showerhead, a spoon holder, and the like. 3D printers can save consumers even more money on high-end items like customized orthotics and photographic equipment.

Make It Yourself and Save—a Lot—with 3D Printers [Marcia Goodrich/Michigan Tech]

(Thanks, Joshua!)

(Image: Shower Head MK1 , ErikJDurwoodII, Thingiverse)

Notable Replies

  1. Whee! And we thought the destruction of print media by digital technology was a big deal! So long, entire world economy!

  2. This study is BS. You would recover the cost in sex toys alone within a couple of days.

  3. This is asinine. How many of us spend $1000 in a few years on items that could be supplied by 3D printing (ie not consumables, clothing, toiletries, or detergents)? I've set up a comfortable home, lived a decade, and moved across the country, and I doubt I've spent half that on 3D-printable items, even including metal flatware. And that's not even accounting for the materials and maintenance costs of using the printer, and it's assuming well-curated libraries of extremely reliable designs. Maybe if you have small children with a constant demand for new plastic toys; maybe if you're doing a lot of home repairs. Otherwise, it may make sense to rent time on a convenient printer, and they could be fantastic for light industry. Stores may even manufacture goods instead of stocking them. But the economic argument for a $1000 printer in a home that maybe spends a few hundred on theoretically printable goods in an unusually expensive year is clearly nuts.

  4. I have a 3D printer (I built myself). The novelty has worn off at this point.
    The real value of 3D printing is making things you can't buy at a store. I made busts of my kids with a kinect scanner and gave them as presents to relatives. Most common things that can be 3D printed can also be bought in a higher quality injection molded form.

    3D home printing is like building your own cheap furniture. You might have fun but someone down the street is probably giving the same thing away for free.

  5. This?

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