Much of the discussion about 3-D printing is focused on it being a game-changer for the manufacturing sector, and I have written about how these technologies will revolutionize the manufacturing landscape. However, the advancement of 3-D printing technologies will also carry implications for transforming homes across the world. Whether the idea of printing items in your own home evokes a sense of entrepreneurialism or sparks a crafty idea, there are a few things to consider before you shell out big bucks for a 3-D printer.
- Machine costs: The vast majority of personal 3-D printers print plastic parts made from acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS) or polylactide (PLA). These machines cost between $500 and $2,500. More expensive vat photopolymerization machines use ultraviolet (UV) lasers to cure liquid photopolymers, but they will cost well over $3,000 for basic models. If you want to print metal parts, you’ll have to save your money because these machines aren’t quite ready for personal use.
- Feedstock costs: PLA and ABS filaments cost an average of $15 per pound, so you’ll want to seriously consider the size and scope of the items you wish to print. Both of these thermoplastic choices are sold in a wide range of colors, but ABS polymers have higher temperature resistance, more flexibility, and longer lifespans than PLA polymers, and are typically preferred by professional users. Either of these plastics can be printed into a limitless variety of shapes, though the materials choice for each application is based on user preference. Photopolymers resins are a far more expensive feedstock option because they are proprietary, ranging between $100 and $700 per pound. This will significantly affect the costs associated with owning a 3-D printer.
- Maintenance: Since there is no infrastructure of personal 3-D printer repair shops to fix your broken hardware, you should call the original equipment manufacturer and ask them questions about your options for maintenance and repair.
- Software: Printers rely on data from 3-D CAD models, so you’ll need the right computer software for creating models. Basic CAD software can be found for free on the Internet, but you may consider paying around $50 to purchase CAD software that comes with tutorial booklets.
- Copyright Infringement: Whether you are printing parts that serve to be aesthetic, functional, or both, it’s important to have basic awareness regarding intellectual property infringement. Copyright infringement principles apply to 3-D printing in the same way that they apply to any other copyrighted product. The best approach is play it safe by not printing 3-D models if you aren’t absolutely sure of their origins. Some people have suggested that 3-D printers can be used to print replacement parts for household appliances or other patented objects, although this topic is highly debated. Err on the side of not printing copyrighted or patented objects if there is any potential for intellectual property infringement.
Households can also enjoy 3-D printing for more novel purposes – food can be 3-D printed! If you’re thinking about exploring this route, you’ll need to purchase a different 3-D printer specifically designed for printing food.
- While 3-D printed food may not always be the most appealing, the printers bring a new flexibility to the kitchen. A German company is receiving funding to develop 3-D printed foods for individuals that have trouble chewing, such as the elderly, and the printers can also produce intricately shaped, multi-colored candies.
Like most standard 3-D printers, the machine cost is somewhat high, but the feedstock is rather affordable since it’s made of sugar. While many entrepreneurs are busy dreaming up a business model for their future 3-D printing candy shop, I’m thinking about how fun it would be to bring candy Nexight logos to our next company potluck.
Personal 3-D printers are still technologically immature, so people who are serious about buying one should conduct their own research. Potential buyers should at least have a clear idea of what purpose the printer will serve, lest they end up with an expensive paperweight. Nevertheless, it’s an exciting time for 3-D printing technologies for both professional and personal use. Over the next several years, machine prices will continue to decrease, materials options will expand, and the sophistication of printers will rise exponentially.