3D-printing household objects could be top money-saving tip

Image credit: Jonathan Juursema

Investing in a 3D-printer could be one of the wisest financial decisions anyone can make, a new study suggests, as the technology could help save consumers thousands of dollars in a very short space of time.

According to a team of researchers from Michigan Technological University, even a low cost 3D-printer is versatile enough to enable the printing of a large variety of household objects at the fraction of the cost of commercially available counterparts.

The study published in Technologies found that the user would get his or her money back within as little as six months and save up to 1,000 per cent of the 3D-printer’s original value over a five-year period.

The cost of the 3D-printed items was compared against low-end and high-end items available on the market.

“With the low-cost estimates, the printer pays for itself in 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 per cent return on investment,” said Associate Professor Joshua Pearce who led the study.

“With the high-cost estimates, the printer pays for itself within six months. And after five years, you've not only recouped all the costs associated with printing, you've saved more than $12,000.”

The researchers believe a 3D-printer would easily last for five years or more with possible repairs being quite cheap, as replacement components could also be 3D-printed.

Pearce says the users don’t need to be geeks or technology whizzes to reap the benefits. In his study, Pearce had an undergraduate student who had never used a 3D printer before print 26 random objects based on freely available designs.

The materials science and engineering undergrad Emily Petersen was given a Lulzbot Mini printer, which sells in the UK for about £1,200.

The high-resolution printer uses open-source software and operating system, which is available for free and can be modified by the user.

Peterson was given no guidance or instruction on how to operate the printer.

“I'd never been up close and personal with a 3D printer before,” Petersen admitted. “And the few printers I had seen were industrial ones. I thought learning to operate the printer was going to take me forever, but I was relieved when it turned out to be so easy.”

Peterson used 3D-design search engine Yeggi to print the objects, including tool holders, snowboard binder clips, shower heads and mounts for GoPro cameras and Dremel tools.

“You search, select and hit print," Pearce says, “just like a regular computer and office paper printer.”

Pearce and Peterson consequently performed an economic analysis looking at possible scenarios of how a regular household could use the 3D printer. They assumed an average user could print one object a week. The two monitored the energy consumption needed to create each item, as well as the amount of plastic required to determine the overall cost.

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