If you were to look at a list of the top emerging technologies developed in the past few years, 3D printing would certainly be near the top. 3D printing has promised to radically change the way new product prototypes are developed and replacement parts are fabricated. The medical field has looked at 3D printing as a way to create scale models of a patient’s internal organs before surgery. 3D printing has applications in the fields of art, architecture, and fashion design, as well. You can read more about printing technology at Konica Minolta.
But just how expensive is running a 3D printer? Is this new technology only available to the select few who can afford it or can the average small or medium sized business afford one? Like other manufacturing technologies, for instance, CNC and laser engraving machines, early adopters had to pay a steep premium to be among the first 3D printer owners. But the good news is that the cost of buying a 3D printer has dropped dramatically over the past few years. What was once a technology available to only commercial and industrial enterprises with high budgets is now obtainable by smaller companies and even home offices.
The cost of the 3D printer for your home itself depends upon the application you need it for. An example of one smaller business area where 3D printing is beginning to become more affordable is dentistry. Ceramic 3D dental printing allows dentists to create accurate dental molds for crowns, bridges, and orthodontic applications. With prices ranging from $10,000 to $50,000, only the top-of-the-line dental practices can afford this technology, however.
But if you don’t require your 3D printer to print highly accurate ceramic dental molds and you don’t need the same precision that an aerospace engineer does, it’s possible to afford a 3D printer for your home. Home 3D models are now available for less than $500. Most of these types of printers are marketed more as hobby kits than professional grade printers, but they are easily customizable and at least make it affordable to experiment with home 3D printing before investing in more expensive equipment.
Just like inkjet printers, the real cost of 3D printing is the price of 3D “ink.” Sure, 3D printers print with all types of materials, from metals to the ceramic used in the dental 3D printers. But most 3D printers, especially the less expensive models, use plastic filament as the “ink.” Plastic filament will cost you anywhere from $25 to $45 for a kilogram of the stuff. Prices for ink are steadily dropping, though, with more companies dedicated to providing ink from recycled materials.
Your budget for 3D printing should take into account a few things. How accurate do you need your 3D models to be? How much are you willing to spend on a 3D printer to achieve this accuracy? Even if you don’t require an elite model for excellent precision, consider your ink costs when choosing an inexpensive model. Cheaper models tend to have a greater “fail” rate, leading to wasted ink. But as ink prices go down and the cost of middle-ground 3D printers continues to fall, 3D printing is becoming more affordable for smaller budgets.