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]
Shower Head MK1