Michigan Technological University (MTU) researchers have calculated that a RepRap could save the owner up to $2,000 in a year by printing common household products.
The study, entitled “Life-cycle economic analysis of distributed manufacturing with open-source 3-D printers“, conclude that a 3D printer could pay for itself within a year if it’s used to print useful items or create parts for repairing household devices, Printing your own personalized iPhone case or shower curtain rings rather than buying them from a store is an easy way to save money. MTU say that these items could even make money by being sold on eBay, which will shorten the time it takes for the 3D printer to pay for itself.
“It blows my mind you can print your own shower curtains and beat the retail price,” said Joshua Pearce, an associate professor in the Materials Science and Engineering Department at MTU. “You can make exactly what you want. That’s the real power of 3D printing. You’re able to get custom-made things for prices that are under what you’d get from manufacturers in China.”
The study found that printing a range of items spread over a year, taking a total of 25 hours print time, would provide a Return-on-Investment (ROI) of between 40% and 200%. The printed parts cost about $18 to print, compared to a retail cost of between #312 and $1,943, and they took into account the shipping, taxes and a 20% print fail rate.
“The unavoidable conclusion from this study is that the RepRap [3D printers] is an economically attractive investment for the average U.S. household already,” the study said. “It appears clear that as RepRaps improve in reliability, continue to decline in cost and both the number and assumed utility of open-source designs continues growing exponentially, open-source 3-D printers will become a mass-market mechatronic device.”
The study does note that these results might not be replicated with more expensive pro-sumer 3D printers, such as the 3D Systems Cube or MakerBot Replicator, which cost upwards of $2,000, as they only worked with the cheaper RepRap machine. However, the savings would still be possible, it would just take longer for the printer to pay for itself.
One other area which is worth noting is that they do not take into account the users’ time in designing and modeling the parts required, which for repairs can be significant. Until there are cheap 3D scanners available this may be the barrier to 3D printers fulfilling their potential in the home.