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3D Printing and Common Cost Misconceptions

Posted by -CEO Mathew Danic on

During the last 12 months of being immersed in consumer printing, we've fallen in love with some idea that people come up with and others... not so much. There is a great amount of wishful thinking about 3D Printing that get's sprayed all over the Internet and as much as I do agree that it's necessary to promote hype, it ultimately scares people off the technology.

Over the last few decades we in Australia have become use to the idea of "One Size Fit's ALL" and the price savings it brings with cheap injection moulding and a high quality finish. So when people are trying to sell, look and marketing is extremely key when it comes to how people value your product.

Consumer 3D Printing however CANNOT compete directly with these technologies. Instead it has to find a new market in "Custom one off design". With all the hype around 3D Printing and how cheap it is quickly becoming, people want the products to also become cheaper but they want the same quality. This is slowly happening, but I don't think that it's as exponential as we might be lead to believe and it hurts everyone that is trying to grow the industry.

When you buy a custom item vs. one that is mass produced, the following thought process needs to be considered:

Custom 3D PrintedMass Produced
1. Idea
2. Design
3. Print
4. Sell product to 1 Customer
1. Idea
2. Design

3. Make machine to produce large quantities
4. Sell product to 1000's of Customers

Steps 1 and 2 are identical for both markets and prices do vary with different ideas, but overall Step 2 can be a large expense to make as it has to work for the machine that will make it.

Step 3 is where 3D Printing works on the small scale, you don't have a HUGE start up cost and designs can be changed at each step along the way. However, once you start making +1000 items that are all identical, you're really going to start losing on time, cost and require more energy.

Step 4 is the Sale and where 3DP loses for 1 off consumers. Although the over head costs to produce a 3DP object is low, you now have to divide the cost of design over all your products produced... When it's +1000 the design cost and machine production costs continue to fall as long as nothing goes wrong. 3DP doesn't have the same luxury and the cost stays the same the entire way of production. 

END RESULT: The 3D Print customer has to pay for, Design, Setup, Print and Post all in one transaction

There is however a SILVER LINING FOR THE CUSTOMER: There are a large and growing amount of FREE 3D Designs all over the thingiverse and the rest of the internet which can reduce some of the costs for themselves.

So now, where does this leave the consumer industry? Not very well off. If everyone is using free designs, then the designers can't make a living. If no one is willing to pay for services or other areas of the 3DP market, then all the smart innovative minds will leave also. Once all the great minds leave, who is going to be able to offer improvements to the broken market?

Hopefully consumer ideas will be able to change and how they value service industries in the future, but until then the Consumer 3D Printing industry will continue to suffer through it's rapid 'growth'.

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