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3D printers are now more affordable and easy to use

Three-dimensional printers were once considered too expensive to be part of the typical home's collection of gadgets, but a new study says that idea is changing. 

Michigan Technological University researchers -- led by associate professor Joshua Pearce -- have found that it could be cheaper for households to buy a 3D printer and create their own products than to buy them from stores. 

Three-dimensional printers take materials, such as plastic, and create products by printing layer upon layer from the bottom up, following a specific design. 

Pearce and his team came to this conclusion by identifying 20 common products found in the typical American home. They used the website Thingiverse, which offers free designs of these products for 3D printers.

After choosing the 20 designs, they looked at Google Shopping to see what the highest and lowest prices were for these items if they were to be purchased online (minus shipping charges). 

They then looked at the costs of purchasing the material for the 3D printer to use for product creation, and compared this data with the Google Shopping prices.

The result was that the average American household would spend anywhere between $312 and $1,944 for the 20 chosen products online as opposed to just $18 if they made them with the 3D printer. 

The 3D printers themselves cost anywhere from $350 to $2,000. Pearce said the 3D printer would pay for itself anywhere from a few months to a few years time. 

"For the average American consumer, 3D printing is ready for showtime," said Pearce. "Say you are in the camping supply business and you don't want to keep glow-in-the-dark tent stakes in stock. Just keep glow-in-the-dark plastic on hand, and if somebody needs those tent stakes, you can print them."

"It would be a different kind of capitalism, where you don't need a lot of money to create wealth for yourself or even start a business."

Pearce said the fact that prices are starting to come down for 3D printers, and the fact that it no longer requires an engineer to figure out how to use one, will make 3D printers more ubiquitous in the home in the coming years. 

Source: Science Daily

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The real trick is going to be the materials...
By theaerokid on 7/30/2013 3:23:29 PM , Rating: 3
I'm all for the commoditization of 3D printing, but let's not feed the hype without thinking about the practical implications of making your own stuff.

My first thought was, "yes, it would be great to make my own (whatever part broke and I want to replace but the company won't sell or prices it ridiculously high), but will it actually be a good enough replacement?" First of all, these printers have a limited resolution, so anything that will require tight tolerances or a certain fit specification is pretty much a toss up whether you'll be able to print a replacement at home.

Then there's the question of whether the material will meet the functional requirements of the part. A material that's easily printable may not be flexible or stiff enough for the application. Need fatigue durability for that specific application? Hardness? Solvent resistance? Good luck. There's no use printing a replacement if it won't get the job done, or last long enough to keep from having to print a new one every week.

I'm not raining on the parade, just hoping to adjust the expectations so we don't go rushing into this. I'm all for it when I have a good idea of what I'm buying.

RE: The real trick is going to be the materials...
By 91TTZ on 7/30/2013 4:48:41 PM , Rating: 2
I agree. Right now all the hype is being created by people who aren't really mechanically inclined and can't foresee these things.

The people who are mechanically inclined would probably know that you could have bought a CNC lathe or milling machine 20 years ago that's more capable than a 3D printer. You can machine wood, metal, or plastic with one and create parts of much higher quality. Those who have used CNC machines know that a 3D printer isn't revolutionary at all.. it's just another tool you can use for the job.

By theaerokid on 7/30/2013 5:09:48 PM , Rating: 2
I understand what you mean about the CNC perspective. I come at it as a practicing engineer who started looking at this stuff back when the cheapest 3D printers were $25k and my company had me scope out these machines for purposes of prototyping parts that would later be machined or molded to spec.

Maybe it's an issue of "who is your target audience" and that's why people like you and I have a much more muted reaction to this "revolution".

By blue_urban_sky on 7/30/2013 6:13:28 PM , Rating: 2
And how much is a CNC lathe or a milling machine today? Although I think the list of stuff is a lot of rubbish for people that don't have access to CNC machines and alike it would be great little hobby tool.

I wanted to make a surround to dock my N7 in the car and this would give me a cheap method of making it.

By Strunf on 7/30/2013 7:57:13 PM , Rating: 2
CNC is a whole different beast, it's far too complicated for the average Joe and that's is why 3D printers are seen as revolutionary, they make it possible for anyone to print 3D objects without study for 1 year, cause that's more or less what you need to properly use a CNC (depending on the number of axis).

There are things a 3D printer can do a CNC can't, a hollow ball.

By Keeir on 7/30/2013 10:11:05 PM , Rating: 2
First of all, these printers have a limited resolution, so anything that will require tight tolerances or a certain fit specification is pretty much a toss up whether you'll be able to print a replacement at home.

This is a good point. Having used a variety of 3D printed parts in both plastic and metal, I can tell you that -very- high tolerances can be acchieved.

But I think focusing on "replacement" of broken things is a mistake. I'd say its more of filling your own personal niche market. For example, with some ink refills and springs I might be able to create a custom ergo pen for <.10 dollars a pop. With liquid/food safe plastics, printable cups would be great. I have a need for a narrow tall cup of 5-6 oz. Or various game peices (create my own chessman). Oh gosh, so many holders that I can't find just the right size for...

The issue still remains that today only plastic printers are really cheap enough to even consider for home use. The majority of plastic only parts tend to be very cheap... even though the base material is cheaper by another whole factor, its hard to feel like you saving real money when you nickle and diming you way up...

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