3D printing has revolutionized rapid prototyping and provided individuals and organizations of all sizes with new ways of producing parts and even entire products quickly and efficiently. Of course, any manufacturing innovation comes at a cost, so exactly how much can you expect to pay to access the advantages of 3D printing?
Before diving into the expenses associated with investing in additive manufacturing hardware and materials for in-house use, it is worth pointing out that you can outsource this to a third party firm. It is easy to find businesses offering 3D printing in Houston and all other major cities, just as you can also snag CNC machining services for a more traditional approach to prototyping and part production.
The key perk associated with outsourcing is that you avoid the steep upfront cost of procuring equipment, along with the ongoing expenses for machinery maintenance and printing materials.
In terms of pricing, you can expect to pay under $13 per unit for parts made with affordable PLA, or closer to $15 for nylon-constructed components. Sturdier materials will cost more to make, and pricing may also be based not on the part volume required, but on the size and scale of a given component, with more complex designs taking longer and thus costing more.
Most reputable 3D printing service providers will be able to give you a quote in a matter of minutes, so you can compare the options in your area to get the best idea of what you should be paying.
Outright Equipment Ownership and Material Costs
If you are committed to the concept of buying all the materials and machinery you need and handling 3D printing yourself, there are an even wider number of factors to take into account.
First, there is the cost of the printing hardware itself, which can vary significantly. The very cheapest desktop 3D printers can cost under $200, which makes them suitable for home use as well as very light commercial applications. Conversely, larger scale machines which can work quickly and use a wide variety of materials can cost anywhere from $10,000 to over $2 million.
Secondly, you need to think about the materials that you are going to use. As mentioned earlier, there are different types of plastics to choose between when approaching 3D printing, with each offering its own benefits and downsides.
Reels of PLA are sold by weight and you can get amounts suitable for small projects for under $20 per kilo, but you will also need to accommodate the deficiencies of this material. Nylon, meanwhile, is usually more than $50 per kilo, but offers improved resilience and durability.
Finally, there is the cost of housing and maintaining the equipment over time. If you are opting for a smaller machine, or have plenty of space available, then the former will be less of a concern, but regular maintenance, repairs, and upgrades will all add up, and should be carefully calculated.
3D printing remains accessible and comparatively affordable; you just need to go in with your eyes open to the potential costs.