3D Printing By The Gram?

By on June 7th, 2015 in Ideas, Service

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A new crowdfunding campaign is attempting what they believe to be a new business model: printing by the gram. We’re not so sure it’s new. 

The project by Virginia-based Allen Ervin, is called “3D Prints For Everyone!” and hopes to sell in this way: 

By charging for only how much filament is used in a print, the cost of a printed object is incredibly small. Most prints cost $5 or less, and prints start at $1 or less per gram used (depending on the material). I want to pass my love of 3D printing on to others by allowing them to create at the lowest cost possible. If all goes well with this first service, it can then be expanded to have locations nationwide.

We’re not sure this approach will work for a couple of reasons. 

First, the two major costs in producing a 3D print are: purchasing the printer itself, and the operator labor to run print jobs. The cost of the filament is almost incidental when compared to these other costs. Further, the amount of labor per print is about the same regardless of the size of the print: set it up, press start, remove the print. 

Secondly, most 3D print services do charge by the amount of material used – it’s just at more expensive rates. Typically the pro service bureaus tend to charge around five times the raw cost of materials to recover their machine and operator costs (and profit!) 

The reason these 3D print services are expensive is because, well, it IS actually expensive to do the job. To pay for the material is one thing, but a 3D print service would also have to pay for machine, operator, facility, other staff, advertising, marketing and more. These all can cost far more than just the material. 

In a 3D print service, you’re really paying for someone to do the job for you; material is just one small piece of the pie. 

So we’re not certain Ervin’s project could succeed. However, it may have a chance for printing smaller items, as their price would be low. However, as larger items are priced, the by-the-gram approach may not make sense when compared to the precision-pricing-based-on-all-expenses approach by the major services. 

Via Kickstarter
Image Credit: Wikipedia

By Kerry Stevenson

Kerry Stevenson, aka "General Fabb" has written over 8,000 stories on 3D printing at Fabbaloo since he launched the venture in 2007, with an intention to promote and grow the incredible technology of 3D printing across the world. So far, it seems to be working!