How To Keep Up With 3D Printer Updates – Or Not

By on May 18th, 2018 in Ideas


 A new version of a 3D printer: should you upgrade? 
A new version of a 3D printer: should you upgrade? 

It seems that as soon as you acquire a 3D printer, it’s obsolete. What should you do?

This is a phenomenon common in the 3D printing world these days. With the expiration of the original patents, we now see a flood of different vendors all producing 3D printers at a fantastic rate. 

These numerous producers create a highly competitive situation, where it is now extremely difficult to stand out from the crowd. In fact, this publication often receives pleadings from startup ventures hoping we’d provide their operation with some publicity, but in many cases their equipment is literally no different than any of dozens of other options, so they really have little chance of succeeding.

But those who do have done something different. They may have improved bed adhesion, print quality, print speed, materials choice, networking, software options, maintenance, or literally anything else they feel could make the user experience better. 

It’s therefore a great time to buy a 3D printer, perhaps the best time in all of history, so far. 

But wait – when you buy a 3D printer, something will soon happen shortly afterwards that could be disturbing: either your manufacturer or a competitor will announce a new machine that’s significantly better. And possibly it may even be at a lower price point than you’ve already paid. 

Should you upgrade? Should you feel upset that your investment is now worth less than it previously was?Should you ignore developments and continue on your merry way?

The answer is that it depends. 

Your machine should meet your immediate needs, if you properly selected it at time of purchase. If your needs have not changed, then there is less consideration required for changing equipment. 

On the other hand, it may be that the new option offers something of particular value to you. For example, let’s say the new machine 3D prints twice as fast as your existing machine. 

Do you need prints to come out twice as fast? Or, a better way to ask this is, Do you need to produce twice as many prints in the same time period?

For some operators the answer might be: YES! A business that makes money on each print could potentially double their throughput – and income – if they could print twice as fast. 

But for others that print only occasionally such an upgrade might not be worth much, or even anything. 

The point here is that you should carefully examine the functional differences between your machine of today and the proposed machine of the future. Some questions to ask:

  • Will my ongoing costs go down if using the new machine? 
  • Are the one time costs of the upgrade less than the savings in ongoing costs over the expected lifetime of the new machine? 
  • Do I really need the added quality / speed provided by a new machine over what I have today?
  • Will my operational time decrease with a new machine due to ease-of-use features? 
  • What is the value of my operational time savings? Do they justify the upgrade?
  • What budget can I apply to an upgrade?
  • What is the net benefit of all these factors?

If you go through these questions and similar ones, you will certainly have a good feeling for whether it is worth an upgrade in your particular case. 

But there’s another dimension to this phenomenon: what happens before you buy? 

Those observant of patterns will quickly notice that a proposed purchase will soon become obsolete. Thus one should wait for the “right” machine. But when does that waiting stop? 

It turns out it would never truly stop; the progress of machine advancement is endless. There will always be a better machine later, and your purchase will be non-obsolete for only a short time, no matter what you do.

The answer here is easy: buy the machine you need today for today’s work. If you must do 3D printing, you must buy a machine and the only ones available are those for sale now. Choose the best one for your situation and accept that it will be your machine for a given period of time in the future. 

Unless, of course, a really good upgrade comes out! 

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!