July 30, 2013
3D Printers Can Save You Money
Michael Harper for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online
Much of the talk surrounding the so-called revolution of 3D printing is centered around the DIY (or Do It Yourself) aspect, people sharing designs (or creating designs themselves) and then creating them in the comfort of their own home. The DIYers of old may have either taken great pride in using everyday household items and more which they fashioned with their hands or simply chose to do so to earn some extra cash.
With some 3D printers priced upwards of $2,000, some may assume the days of printing everything one needs from their den are too far off. A team from Michigan Technological University, however, believes families can already begin saving money once they make the initial large purchase and start printing things they need at home.
Additionally, associate professor Joshua Pearce and the rest of the researchers say the number of designs freely available on the web, as well as the quality of finished products, are continuing to improve, saying the time to buy a 3D printer may be sooner than you think.
The team chose 20 items which they believe a normal household may need to buy in the stores or online at some point. Many of the items, such as a garlic press or acoustic guitar pick, may only need to be purchased once. Other items, such as a dock for the iPhones 4 and 5, may need to be replaced when these phones are replaced with newer models.
Next, the Michigan team found similar items for sale using Google to determine a minimum and maximum cost without shipping. After considering several points, such as printing material and the energy used to print these items, the team calculated it would take anywhere from $300 to almost $2,000 to buy these items. They were able to make each of the 20 items on one 3D printing unit in a weekend, all for $18.
Pearce also believes the public needn't be worried about 3D printers being too far out of their realm of technological understanding. Though it is more difficult to print 3D than it is to print 2D tickets to a sporting event, he says it's much easier to set up and begin downloading designs to print from the Internet than some may think.
"Some can be set up in under half an hour, and even the RepRap can be built in a weekend by a reasonably handy do-it-yourselfer," said Pearce in a press statement.
The RepRap unit, by the way, allows crafty creators to buy a few key components, such as the hardware, electronics, motors and nozzles, then print off the rest of the unit from this rudimentary setup. RepRap owners are even encouraged to print off components for friends and help them build their own machine.
It's this kind of openness and sharing which Pearce and many other 3D printing proponents believe will help the industry get off the ground. Aside from saving money, creators are constantly sharing, improving and tweaking designs which are freely made available on sites like Thingiverse.com. If you can't yet create a 3D CAD model to feed to a 3D printer, chances are you'll be able to find what you're looking for or ask someone to design it for you.
Designers have made things ranging from playable vinyl albums to miniature figurines to toilet seat bumpers using 3D printers and CAD models.
Last month the owner of the Feathered Angels Waterfowl Sanctuary in Arlington, Tennessee was even able to print off a prosthetic leg for a crippled duckling that had lost its foot to amputation.
With the wealth of knowledge growing and the ingenuity of people looking to make their own stuff once more, perhaps Pearce is correct when he says "For the average American consumer, 3D printing is ready for showtime."