In-house 3D Printing is a versatile option for various applications, including high-resolution models, quick prototyping, rapid tooling for traditional manufacturing processes, manufacturing assistance, and even end-use components in manufacturing.
When it comes to investing in a 3D Printing Gosford, though, viability usually boils down to one fundamental question: does it make economic sense for your company? How much do a 3D printer cost, and how much time and money can it save your business?
Prices for 3D printers range from $200 to $500,000 or more, depending on the printing technique, materials, and sophistication of the 3D printing solution.
Costs and Factors to Consider for Different Types of 3D Printing Processes
Costs of a Plastic 3D Printer
Fused deposition modeling (FDM), stereolithography (SLA), and selective laser sintering are the three most well-established plastic 3D printing technologies today (SLS).
If you’re creating relatively simple prototypes in small quantities, FDM 3D printers will provide the cheapest parts. SLA resin 3D printers offer higher resolution, better quality, and a more comprehensive range of 3D printing materials at a modest premium. However, when printing complicated designs or bigger batches, the difference soon fades due to minor labor-intensive post-processing. Finally, SLS is the most cost-effective method for creating medium to large volumes of high-quality functional components in medium to large numbers.
Comparing the entire cost of different 3D printers extends beyond sticker pricing, which does not convey the complete picture of how much a 3D printer costs and how much your created component will cost. Material and labor expenses for 3D Printing have a considerable impact on cost per component, depending on the application and your manufacturing requirements.
Let’s take a look at all of the different elements and expenses associated with each procedure.
Modeling of Fused Deposition (FDM)
FDM, also known as fused filament fabrication (FFF), is a printing technique that creates parts by melting and extruding thermoplastic filament, which is then deposited layer by layer in the build area by a printer nozzle.
FDM is the most popular kind of 3D Printing because of the proliferation of hobbyist 3D printers. Professional and industrial FDM printers, on the other hand, are also popular among professionals.
The cheapest 3D printers are usually often FDM printers. The most affordable entry-level DIY FDM 3D printer kits start at about $200. However, most of these models are more comparable to toys or DIY projects, requiring you to spend a significant amount of time building, modifying, and calibrating the printer. Print quality is heavily reliant on completing these processes, and these machines will still require repairs and regular maintenance to keep them going. Therefore they are only suggested for those with an (in progress) engineering degree and enough time and patience.
Hobbyist FDM 3D printers costing $500-$1,500 may arrive as a kit or and require significantly less tinkering, but they still have many of the same drawbacks as the cheapest 3D printers. Some models at the top of this range will have larger build volumes and more material possibilities other than low-temperature polymers like PLA.
Professional FDM 3D printers start at $2,500, while large-format professional FDM printers start at around $4,000, with the most advanced industrial FDM printers costing well over $10,000. Most of these printers will come pre-assembled and calibrated, or they may self-calibrate. Printers in this category provide improved print quality, a more comprehensive selection of materials, higher build volumes, more dependability, and are simpler to operate and maintain. Unlike low-cost printers, professional 3D printer manufacturers also provide customer help to troubleshoot difficulties.
Material expenses for FDM 3D printing range from $50 to $150/kg for most standard and engineering and $100-200/kg for support materials. Cheaper options may be available, but they will come at a cost in terms of quality.
Finally, FDM printing can be time-consuming. Many designs, particularly complicated models, need the removal of support structures, which must be done manually or by dissolving the systems in the case of soluble supports. Parts require extensive human post-processing, such as sanding, to provide surface and erase layer lines.
Stereolithography is a type of lithography that uses (SLA)
SLA 3D printers utilize a laser to cure liquid resin into a rigid plastic in a technique known as photopolymerization. Because of its high resolution, accuracy, and material diversity, SLA is one of the most favored methods among experts.
SLA components offer the best precision, most precise details, and smoothest surface finish of any plastic 3D printing technology, but its primary advantage is its adaptability. SLA resin formulas have optical, mechanical, and thermal qualities comparable to conventional, engineering, and industrial thermoplastics.
SLA technology was previously only available in giant, complicated industrial 3D printers costing more than $200,000, but the method has become considerably more affordable. Businesses can have access to industrial-quality SLA for as little as $3,500, thanks to the Formlabs Form 3 printer. The Form 3L’s large-format SLA begins at only $11,000.
SLA 3D printers will be sent fully built and calibrated. They are professional instruments that are also dependable for production and require little maintenance. On the odd occasion that something goes wrong, customer assistance is also immediately available to troubleshoot concerns.
In terms of material prices, most conventional and engineering resins cost between $149 and $200 per liter.
SLA printers are simple to use, and several parts of the process, like cleaning and post-curing, may be automated to decrease workforce requirements. Printed pieces have a high-quality finish right from the printer and need little post-processing to eliminate support marks.
SLS (Selective Laser Sintering)
SLS-printed items offer outstanding mechanical properties, with strength comparable to injection-molded parts. As a result, SLS is the most widely used plastic 3D printing technology in industrial settings.
SLS, like SLA, was previously only accessible in large-format, complicated 3D printing systems starting about $200,000 in price. Businesses can now acquire industrial SLS starting at $18,500 with Formlabs’ Fuse 1 SLS and $31,845 for a complete configuration that includes a post-processing and powder recovery system.
SLS printers, like SLA printers, will come built and calibrated out of the box. They are dependable and designed for 24-hour production, and they come with comprehensive training and quick customer support.
Nylon materials for SLS printing cost about $100 per kilogram. SLS does not require any support structures, and unfused powder may be reused, lowering material costs.
SLS is the most miniature labor-intensive plastic 3D printing technology in a production scenario since components have excellent quality right out of the printer and need basic cleaning to remove excess powder.
Calculating 3D Printing Costs Per Part
Calculating cost per part necessitates considering the expenses of equipment ownership, material, and labor and understanding the elements that drive each of these cost components and the questions to ask to assess alternative production processes and find hidden costs.
The equipment ownership cost comprises fixed expenditures such as purchasing the 3D printer, service contracts, installation, and maintenance. These costs apply whether your 3D printer is idle or producing hundreds of components every week.
Distribute equipment ownership costs among individual components by summing up all of the machine’s predicted fixed expenses during its lifespan and dividing the total by the number of parts it is estimated to generate. As a general rule, the better the productivity and usage of your 3D printer, the cheaper the per-part equipment ownership cost.
Cost Calculator for 3D Printing
Calculating cost per item, lead time, and comparing alternatives to see if a solution makes sense for your business would ordinarily entail developing an intricate spreadsheet and attempting to acquire all of the —often hidden—information from a manufacturer.
To avoid this bother, use our easy, interactive 3D printing cost calculator to determine 3D printing cost and lead time on Formlabs 3D printers and compare time and cost savings to alternative manufacturing techniques.