Is Leasing Appropriate To Acquire 3D Printers For Education?

By on January 24th, 2016 in learning

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There are generally two methods of procuring equipment: buying or leasing. Which one is best for schools? 

If you’re buying a 3D printer, the entire cost of the purchase must be paid before you even receive the equipment. Leasing, however, is quite different. The cost of the equipment is spread out over the term of the lease, which might be three years or longer. Of course, you’ll end up paying more in total, as the cost of the lease itself must be accommodated. 

Which one should a school use? In some cases, the decision will already be made by school or school division policies. The authorities may have decided that all equipment priced above a certain level will be leased. Typically this is done to provide a smooth expectation of ongoing costs so that cash flow can be managed appropriately. 

In such a situation, if the printer costs less than the minimum policy amount for leasing, then the decision is also made: you must buy the equipment directly. 

But without a policy, there is a decision to be made: lease or buy? Here are some heuristics you might consider: 

If you have sufficient budget to purchase the machine directly, consider doing so, as it is often the simplest approach. 

If you don’t have the money in budget, consider leasing, but select a term that results in a monthly cost that IS in your budget. A longer term will lower the monthly cost, a shorter term, the opposite. 

The choice of term is a critical factor, as it should more-or-less match the expected use lifetime of the equipment. Imagine a scenario where you lease a machine for four years, but the machine breaks or becomes obsolete in one year. You’d be paying costs for equipment you’re not using in years two to four! 

The reverse scenario is also true: if you lease a higher priced commercial machine, but select a shorter term, you might find yourself overpaying for the first few years and then paying nothing later on. Depending on your budget, this may or may not be appropriate. 

In fact for higher-priced commercial equipment, there really isn’t any suitable alternative to leasing, as educational institutions, and particularly smaller ones, may not have the tens or hundreds of thousands of USD$ to outlay on a purchase. 

These scenarios imply that the most important factor is to determine an estimate for the expected lifetime of the equipment. For flashy desktop 3D printers, this may be a lot less than you might expect, as new equipment seems to be announced at least annually by most companies. 

If it’s feasible within your organization, we suggest buying lower-priced equipment and then selling/replacing it as new models appear.

PS: Don’t try to lease the model shown at top; it’s no longer offered! 

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!