At Michigan Technological University, Associate Professor Joshua Pearce recently decided to explore that question using 3D printers.
“For years we’ve been using 3D printers to print high-end scientific equipment in our lab,” he told Digital Trends. “It’s very easy to show that if you use an affordable 3D printer, you can make your money back by printing thousands of dollars of scientific equipment over the course of just one weekend. But we wanted to find out was whether there would be a similar benefit for normal, everyday consumers using 3D printers.”
Even in the past few years, Pearce noted that the number of freely available 3D printable models for everyday items has exploded online. Yes, there are still plenty of replica lightsabers and other objects which aren’t going to necessarily improve your life on a day-to-day basis, but there are also shower heads, kitchen utensils, light switches, sporting equipment, and many others that can function in your daily activities.
For the study, Pearce decided to give Emily Peterson, an undergrad student majoring in material science and engineering, a new LulzBot Mini 3D printer without any instructions, and information about where she could find downloadable models. She then printed out items ranging from GoPro camera mounts to Dremel tools, after which she and Pearce ran high-cost and low-cost price comparisons.
Low-cost comparisons saved users an average of 93 percent per item, while high-cost items saved an average of a massive 98.65 percent.
“If you’re not printing high-value items, if you’re just printing normal consumer goods that you might pick up at Walmart, you can make your money back in three years — even if you choose the lowest cost items available online,” Pearce said. “If you choose higher-end custom items, it’ll pay for itself within six months, provided that you print one item a week. In that case, you’d save more than $12,000 over a printer’s five-year lifecycle.”
The fact that a customer could earn close to a 1,000 percent return on their 3D printer investment over half a decade is, frankly, amazing — and proof positive that 3D printers can be much, much more than a luxury item for buyers.
We may not yet be at the tipping point at which every home has additive manufacturing facilities, but at this rate, it is not going to be long before they do. After all, it makes perfect business sense.
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