A new study highlights the advantages of having a 3D printer at home, and reveals how these devices can obtain a real payback.

3D printing may lead to significant savings on the household budget

At a time when a number of studies have been focusing on the advantages of 3D printing to enable personalisation of objects and the impact of this approach on business competitiveness, researchers at the Michigan Institute of Technology have been studying the impact this technology could have on the day-to-day life of a household. This method of digital deposition manufacture undeniably calls for a rethink of the basic principles of our industrial organization, but it may well also affect households on a daily basis. The study found that 3D printing could lead to significant savings of cost and time for each home, conservatively estimated at up to $2,000 a year. This figure would seem to justify widespread use of 3D printing in the home, replacing store-bought versions of a number of items.

Substantial savings

The researchers studied twenty everyday objects such as a curtain rail, razors, etc, which are available both in the form of open-source designs for 3D printing and in stores. The study demonstrates that on the basis of various criteria – power consumption, time, unit purchasing cost –  3D printing would unlock savings of a couple of thousand dollars per year. Comparing these twenty products with their average cost on Google Shopping, the researchers found that it was between ten and a hundred times more expensive to buy them than to print them at home over a few days, at an estimated total cost of around $18. Taking as an assumption that a household would print around twenty items a year, the most pessimistic hypothesis, the printer paid for its own purchase price of between $350 and $2,000 within just a few months. In addition, the researchers have shown that production quality and shelf-life, two deciding factors in the development of mass-market 3D printing, are optimized when a traditional model such as RepRap is used. The printing files with the 3D designs are available on community sites such as Thingiverse, the procedure is easy to grasp and users can go up the learning curve quite fast, says the report.

Comparative advantages for personalized, top-of-the-range items

3D printing has even more attractive cost advantages when it comes to carefully designed, personalized objects, since such top-of-the-range items are more costly to produce by means of a traditional manufacturing process.  Apart from the clear cost-savings aspect, the researchers also point out that people tend to place greater value on objects they have made themselves, which indicates that such 3D printed items may enjoy a subjective premium over and above the objective value. This double value, economic and psychological, could even lead people to behave more responsibly, with users paying more heed to the life cycle of an object than its cost when making a purchasing decision.

By Thomas Meyer
Journalist, Business Analyst