3D printing ordinary household goods can save you a lot of money, study finds

Shawn Knight

Posts: 12,999   +130
Staff member

3D printers are still very much a niche product for a specific audience, most of which are tech enthusiasts and creators. As a recent study out of Michigan Tech highlights, however, it may be in the best interest of the general public (and their pocketbooks) to hop aboard the 3D printing bandwagon ASAP.

Michigan Technological University Associate Professor Joshua Pearce recently set out to determine just how much money the average consumer could save if they were to purchase a run-of-the-mill 3D printer and use it to print a variety of household good versus simply buying them at the store as most do today.

Pearce recruited Emily Petersen, an undergraduate with no prior 3D printing experience, to serve as the guinea pig.

The duo went with a Lulzbot Mini printer and within less than an hour, Petersen had it up and running and was searching for blueprints online to print. Using a search engine called Yeggi, she selected 26 ordinary items to print out including a shower head, tool holders and snowboard binder clips.

Using the data they collected, the team was able to determine that on the low end, buyers could expect to save an average of 93 percent versus buying a product at retail. The high-cost comparison, meanwhile, revealed an average savings of 98.65 percent.

Pierce concluded that by using the low-cost estimates, the 3D printer would pay for itself in about three years and all the costs associated with printing, such as the price of plastic and electricity, are not only earned back but provide a 25 percent return on investment. After five years, Pierce says, the return on investment climbs above 100 percent.

Using high-cost estimates, the printer would pay for itself in just six months and after five years, you would not only have recouped all the costs associated with printing, you would have saved more than $12,000.

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Squid Surprise

Posts: 3,871   +2,929
The printer is $1,250.... so you don't really need THAT much to make a difference... I remember when you couldn't buy a colour laser printer for less than that, so it's really not so unbelievable...

I wonder about the actual quality of the printed items though... the shower head, for instance - is it as good as a shower head I'd buy from Home Depot? How long does it last?

If the answer is "as good" and "just as long"... I'm in!
 

Evernessince

Posts: 5,464   +6,145
The printer is $1,250.... so you don't really need THAT much to make a difference... I remember when you couldn't buy a colour laser printer for less than that, so it's really not so unbelievable...

I wonder about the actual quality of the printed items though... the shower head, for instance - is it as good as a shower head I'd buy from Home Depot? How long does it last?

If the answer is "as good" and "just as long"... I'm in!

The quality is likely higher. The shower heads from Home Depot are cheap plastic and start leaking after 6 months. Not to mention, you can do designs with a 3D printer simply not possible with traditional manufacturing methods.
 

CobraA1

Posts: 22   +16
I always wonder what I'd print with it.

A lot of stuff I buy on a regular basis is not exactly 3D printable, or wouldn't benefit from a 3D printing process. Dish soap, for example. Don't really need to print that, as it's a liquid. Or food. Some foods may be 3D printable eventually (cake frosting probably already can), but I don't imagine 3D printing will be able to replicate everything with the same taste, texture, nutritional value, etc of every food any time soon.

Electronics could theoretically be 3D printed, but competing with Intel's 10nm or so process is very likely a very distant future, not to mention some of the materials (like arsenic) may be controversial to make available to the general public as something to buy for their printers.

Most of what I've seen 3D printed is not really consumer - businesses seem to use it quite a bit. It's great for prototyping, I am sure.

Also, current consumer models are often just printing plastic. A 3D printer that can handle a wide variety of materials isn't really cost effective right now.

What would I personally print on a current consumer level 3D printer? Maybe a few plastic statues. Then I'd lose interest. I don't buy a whole lot of most household items. Take the shower head for example: I print it once - then it lasts for many years. The printer would be collecting dust most of the time, except the once a year I might use it to print something actually useful. 99% of the things I'd realistically print would be trinkets, to be honest.
 

Evernessince

Posts: 5,464   +6,145
I always wonder what I'd print with it.

A lot of stuff I buy on a regular basis is not exactly 3D printable, or wouldn't benefit from a 3D printing process. Dish soap, for example. Don't really need to print that, as it's a liquid. Or food. Some foods may be 3D printable eventually (cake frosting probably already can), but I don't imagine 3D printing will be able to replicate everything with the same taste, texture, nutritional value, etc of every food any time soon.

Electronics could theoretically be 3D printed, but competing with Intel's 10nm or so process is very likely a very distant future, not to mention some of the materials (like arsenic) may be controversial to make available to the general public as something to buy for their printers.

Most of what I've seen 3D printed is not really consumer - businesses seem to use it quite a bit. It's great for prototyping, I am sure.

Also, current consumer models are often just printing plastic. A 3D printer that can handle a wide variety of materials isn't really cost effective right now.

What would I personally print on a current consumer level 3D printer? Maybe a few plastic statues. Then I'd lose interest. I don't buy a whole lot of most household items. Take the shower head for example: I print it once - then it lasts for many years. The printer would be collecting dust most of the time, except the once a year I might use it to print something actually useful. 99% of the things I'd realistically print would be trinkets, to be honest.

Cooking is pretty science oriented and you are correct, 3D printers will not likely ever be able to replicate the exact reactions that occur during cooking.

Basic electronics might be printable but nothing like a CPU or GPU. a 3D printer doesn't have anywhere near the required accuracy. You aren't even going to be looking at printing anything in nm at all.

Really there are so many household items that can be printed. silverware, bowls, cups, Dish Rack, coat hanger, shoe cuby, ect. All in any style you want. You just got to make sure you are using material safe for eating off of it you are going to print bowls or cups. This is really just the start as well, they will get better over time.
 

CobraA1

Posts: 22   +16
Really there are so many household items that can be printed. silverware, bowls, cups, Dish Rack, coat hanger, shoe cuby, ect. All in any style you want. You just got to make sure you are using material safe for eating off of it you are going to print bowls or cups. This is really just the start as well, they will get better over time.

Well - I have a set of silverware. I have the dishes / bowls / cups I need. Maybe if I had kids, I would go through them faster. But right now, they're basically one time purchases - I don't need a constant supply of new silverware.
 

cliffordcooley

Posts: 12,661   +6,033
They're assuming the printer will function year after year without failure. They're assuming the household goods can be printed with the same quality. And they are wrong when they make these assumptions.
 

Mr Dude

Posts: 64   +47
What a incredibly misleading title. "Printing ORDINARY household goods can save you money"
Are we starting to click-bait here, too?

I've gone through the list, the items included are anything BUT "ordinary household goods". Even the three or so items I might eventually need, at a stretch, would be a one-off printing. The entire article feels like something you'd throw together to justify spending department money on a 3D printer.
 

mbrowne5061

Posts: 1,791   +1,030
The printer is $1,250.... so you don't really need THAT much to make a difference... I remember when you couldn't buy a colour laser printer for less than that, so it's really not so unbelievable...

I wonder about the actual quality of the printed items though... the shower head, for instance - is it as good as a shower head I'd buy from Home Depot? How long does it last?

If the answer is "as good" and "just as long"... I'm in!

The quality is likely higher. The shower heads from Home Depot are cheap plastic and start leaking after 6 months. Not to mention, you can do designs with a 3D printer simply not possible with traditional manufacturing methods.

Probably not, actually. Additive manufacturing rarely creates parts that are considered 'full strength', and are usually porous in some way. A shower head that came out of even the best consumer 3D printers would likely leak from literally everywhere. I also know that I wouldn't trust a snowboard binding that came out of a FDM 3D printer; its going to crack the very first hard-ish landing.

3D printing has the potential to be huge, but our materials and methods need to drastically improve. The only consumer 3D printing company I've even seen experimenting with creating new materials (beyond just colors) is Formlabs. Even then, I've not going to print a snowboard binding from one of their printers. Maybe a showerhead though, just to see if I could.
 
Really there are so many household items that can be printed. silverware, bowls, cups, Dish Rack, coat hanger, shoe cuby, ect. All in any style you want. You just got to make sure you are using material safe for eating off of it you are going to print bowls or cups. This is really just the start as well, they will get better over time.

Well - I have a set of silverware. I have the dishes / bowls / cups I need. Maybe if I had kids, I would go through them faster. But right now, they're basically one time purchases - I don't need a constant supply of new silverware.
If you buy anything from a normal retailer made of plastic these printers can probably already do it.
 
What a incredibly misleading title. "Printing ORDINARY household goods can save you money"
Are we starting to click-bait here, too?

I've gone through the list, the items included are anything BUT "ordinary household goods". Even the three or so items I might eventually need, at a stretch, would be a one-off printing. The entire article feels like something you'd throw together to justify spending department money on a 3D printer.

It doesnt matter what things they chose - sites like youmagine have 100s of thousands of designs for what is ordinary for even you.
 
They're assuming the printer will function year after year without failure. They're assuming the household goods can be printed with the same quality. And they are wrong when they make these assumptions.
I disagree -- 1) the printers can print their own replacement components and I have found mine to be extremely reliable and 2) often you can print much better more personal items than what is for sale.