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3D printers pay for themselves in under a year, study finds

Categories: Business, Community, Science & Technology

 It would cost the typical consumer up to $1,944 to buy the lot of household items produced by MTU students with a 3D printer in one weekend for only $18. (Justin Plichta/Michigan Technological University)Imagine how much money you'd save if you never had to purchase another shower head, smartphone case, spoon holder or other plastic-based household item again?

A group of Materials Science & Engineering students at the Michigan Technological University did just that, and found out you'd save quite a bit -- enough to recoup the entire cost of a 3D printer in less than one year.

"For the average American consumer, 3D printing is ready for showtime," said MTU Associate Professor Joshua Pearce to Michigan Tech News, predicting that like personal computing before it, personal manufacturing is about to hit the mainstream.

Pearce and his colleagues recently looked at 20 different household items on Thingiverse, a free database of 3D printing designs available for download.

The Researchers contrasted the costs of printing vs. buying these 20 items based on average household consumption and current market rates.

They found that the total cost of printing material for all 20 objects, which included everything from toys to kitchen gadgets, was about $18 US. The lowest retail cost for the same group of items online was $312 -- the highest, $1,943.

The team concluded that an open-source self-replicating rapid prototyper (RepRap) like the one used in their study could save consumers between $300 and $2,000 a year.

 A RepRap 3D printer used in the MTU study. (Mechatronics / Michigan Technological University / Science Direct)

RepRaps currently retail for approximately $350 to $1000, and the study assumes at least 25 hours of necessary printing for each of the selected products, evenly distributed throughout the year.

"The unavoidable conclusion from this study is that the RepRap is an economically attractive investment for the average U.S. household already," the study's abstract reads.

"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."

Do you own, or have you experimented with 3D printing yet? Would you consider purchasing one if it would save you money in the long run? Weigh in below.

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