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Understanding 3D Printer Cost

As with any new piece of equipment, it can often be difficult to know how quickly it will pay itself off. Printers range from $200 (hobbyist printers) to $1m. However, there are plenty of printers in the mid-range ($5,000 to $100,000), which suits smaller companies with manufacturing needs. Here’s a guide to 3D printer cost and the different types of printers out there.

Hobbyist
($200 - $3,000 USD)



Hobbyist printers typically retail from anywhere between $200 and $3,000 USD. They're typically FFF (or FDM) machines and are suitable for those who want to learn how 3D printing works and print toys or items for personal use. Because most designs are build around affordable hardware and open source software, expect that some assembly will be required, minimal customer support, and to dedicate time to tuning, troubleshooting, and maintenance. Material choices tend to be limited to low temperature plastics like PLA, PETG, and ABS.

Professional
($3,000 - $15,000 USD)


Printers in the professional category cost between $3,000 and $15,000 USD and are usually FFF or SLA machines. Look for more robust hardware than hobbyist systems, a turnkey user experience, bigger build volumes, and dedicated customer support. These printers are utilized by companies requiring improved machine reliability, higher accuracy, and stronger functional materials.



Industrial
($15,000 - $150,000 USD)


Industrial printers tend to produce the highest quality parts with improved part accuracy, machine reliability, and speed over Professional printers. These systems typically retail between $15,000 and $150,000 USD, are available with the widest range of materials, and rely on precision hardware and sensors to ensure print consistency. SLS machines and high end FFF machines are the majority of this market segment. The most affordable metal printers also fall in this range.



Part costs

Equally important to machine cost is part cost. Though there are more ways to make parts than can be counted, we find it most effective to compare 3D printing to the two most common fabrication methods: machining in-house and sending out to a third-party supplier.

Machining in-house


Machining a part in house has a few key cost sources: the cost to operate your machine, the material cost, and ongoing maintenance/upkeep costs. Of the three, the machine operation cost (including your machinists time) is the most significant. As an example, if your machinist’s time is $70/hour, and it takes them five hours to design, setup, program tool paths, and actually machine the part, your company will need to spend $350 just towards the labor needed for a part. Materials and upkeep for this part could cost anywhere from $10 to $60 dollars depending on material choice and machine condition.

Sending out to a third-party supplier


External parts suppliers charge a premium for the convenience that they offer. The same part that costs $350-$400 to machine in house may cost up to $1,000 to fabricate out of house. In addition to the cost jump, sending a part out of house comes with extended lead times that effectively halt your design process. These lead times can stretch from days to weeks for each iteration.

3D printing in-house


If a part can be 3D printed, it’s often far cheaper to print in house. Printing a part only requires a one-time machine cost and a recurring cost for materials. Though printing materials can be more expensive than standard stock, there’s less wasted material and require no machinist time or external labor costs to operate.

Working out Return on Investment (ROI)


To work out your ROI, take your current manufacturing method costs, and subtract the cost to print the same part to get the savings. Take the price of the printer, divide by the cost of savings to figure out the number of printed parts needed to pay off the printer.

See an example calculation below.


Benefits

    $670

    Machined Part Cost →

    - $120 =

    Printed Part Cost →

    $550

    Per Part Savings

    $100000

    Cost of Printer →

    / $550 =

    Divide by Cost Per Part →

    182

    Prints to Achieve ROI

    12 hrs/part

    Print Time →

    10 parts/week

    Parts Per Week →

    18 weeks

    Time to ROI

Business impact

It’s important to remember that part costs aren’t everything.

Printers can provide your company with business benefits that far outweigh part-level savings. The ability for engineers, designers, and technicians to get functional parts same or next day means that your team can respond and iterate more quickly, provide customized solutions, and perfect designs in days rather than months.

Gain design flexibility, shorten time to market, and reduce unplanned downtime.