Don’t Forget The Maintenance Costs!

 Maintaining your 3D printer [Source: Fabbaloo]
Maintaining your 3D printer [Source: Fabbaloo]

Purchasing 3D printing equipment can be a costly affair, but sometimes it’s actually far more expensive than you first thought.

Sure, the initial purchase cost of a device can be dear, but sometimes operators neglect an important factor during decision making: ongoing maintenance costs.

These are the costs for providing service to the machine to ensure it remains able to operate properly. Maintenance costs could include both regular service to, for example, clean and lubricate the mechanical parts, and also repair services for the machine in case it is broken in some manner.

While “regular service” is, well, “regular”, its costs are obviously predictable. A standard maintenance program is frequently available from the manufacturer, and it will suggest periodic activities that should tend to keep the machine in good working order.

On the other hand, repairs are by no means regular. If they are regular, then I propose you’ve probably selected the wrong machine. And not only is the frequency of incidents unpredictable, the cost of each incident is similarly unpredictable. Sometimes the cost of an incident exceeds the value of the machine itself, making the device financially obsolete.

All of these costs will be yours. When you buy a machine, you are committing to pay not only the initial machine cost, but also all costs for recurring maintenance for the lifetime of the machine.

Those costs are invariably not listed on the price tag, yet you are responsible for them.

How can you calculate them? This can be quite difficult.

The easier part is to determine the regular maintenance costs. For smaller machines without a service plan from the manufacturer, an inspection of the maintenance procedures should give you a good idea of what is involved. Pay particular attention to the materials and/or parts that might be required to be regularly applied or replaced, as these carry specific costs. The labor component could also be computed, although for some installations and particularly DIY setups, the labor might be “free” or already paid for in other budgets.

Sometimes the manufacturer or third parties will offer a service plan to perform both regular maintenance and emergency repairs, and this is more frequently seen on higher-end devices. On smaller devices, if a service plan is offered at all, it is typically a flat rate. On larger equipment options, a service plan is typically a percentage of the original purchase cost, usually in the 15-25% range. If you’re doing the arithmetic, this means you’re effectively re-buying the machine over a 4-7 year period.

These service plans are relatively easy to calculate, simply because there are stated fees involved. If there are no service plans, then things get tricky.

You’ll have to somehow gauge the reliability of the proposed device to get a handle on the amount of expected repairs. This can be done by reviewing the content of discussion forums, asking other users of the device or even asking the manufacturer.

Once you have a grasp of the required work, you can then make a rough estimate of the effort and parts cost required over time. Calculate a rough budget for the repair costs during your expected usage lifetime.

Now, if you were to combine the expected cost of regular maintenance, repair costs and initial purchase price, you now have a reasonable perspective on a major portion of the finances you are committing to when buying a 3D printer.

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