Using the 3D print pricing calculator [Source: MakerOS]
The need to set a price for 3D prints is something every 3D print operator needs to do, unless they intend on using all the prints for themselves.
It’s therefore very common to have 3D printer operators set prices for the prints that take place. At first, it may seem straightforward but, in fact, it is actually an incredible tangle of factors that is quite confusing.
I first encountered this issue when setting up the pricing for a Fabrication Lab. It should be easy, I thought. You would simply take the weight/volume of the material used by each print, convert into raw material cost and mark them up appropriately.
But no, it’s more complex than that. Some thoughts immediately came to mind:
Did I account for tax on the materials?
What about the shipping cost of the materials?
What if the shipping cost varies when I order in bulk?
How do I account for the time required to order, receive, unload, install and dispose of the materials?
3D Print Pricing Complexity
That got me thinking in more detail about the pricing problem. The cost of a print would not only include the raw material charges, but there are other consumables that silently generate costs. Things like build trays that might be reused a few times, adhesive sprays, nozzles, printheads, waste tanks, and more. These tend to vary by machine and I had to dig into the documentation to figure out what exactly was being used on each print job.
Then there’s the issue of paying for the machine itself. If the machine is to be paid for by its users, then each job should contribute something to the costs of machine acquisition. But then that depends on how many jobs are actually going to take place over the lifetime of the equipment. And what is that lifetime, exactly? Is it three years? Ten years? I don’t know!
I made assumptions about all these factors and prepared an increasingly busy spreadsheet. Then it got very messed up when I realized I had not accounted for failures. A client should not be paying for a failed print, even though some amount of resources may have been consumed. Thus, I then needed to figure out on average how often prints would fail and somehow account for that in the successful job costs.
In the end it was a ridiculous amount of work and even then I really wasn’t certain whether I had properly accounted for the true costs of operation.
3D Print Pricing Rule?
In discussing this dilemma with others, I learned a straightforward rule of thumb that some 3D printer operators use:
“Take the raw material cost of a job and just multiply it by five. That’s the cost to the client.”
Well, that’s certainly a lot easier to compute in a spreadsheet, and it likely covers all the other confusing aspects simply by brute force.
But in today’s highly competitive world of 3D printing, is such a rule valid? If providers actually used that type of rule they would likely be out-competed by others who took the time to more accurately compute costs to undercut the competition.
What Is One To Do?
I found a very interesting answer from my friends at MakerOS, who provide an integrated cloud-based management system for manufacturers.
Their system allows small and medium-sized manufacturers to track clients, issue invoices, dispatch jobs, and provide quick quotes on work requests, and allows all parties to easily communicate electronically.
But buried in their offer is something quite interesting: a “Pricing Calculator”
3D Print Pricing Calculator
A sophisticated 3D print pricing calculator [Source: MakerOS]
MakerOS’ pricing calculator is a kind of online spreadsheet where you input a large list of factors specific to your 3D print job scenario, and it calculates what you should charge. Or at least, the minimum you should charge.
The Pricing Calculator inputs cover these categories:
Material (type, costs, units, etc.)
Machine (costs, lifetime, cycles, etc.)
Fabrication (machine type, job times, etc.)
Facility (electricity, utilities, etc.)
Labor (wages, repair frequency, etc.)
Software (CAD, CAM, etc.)
Each of these categories requires a series of inputs that you must explicitly define. In some cases it may take a bit of work to dig through documentation or historical costs and events to answer them. But trust me, it will be worthwhile to do so.
Once you’ve set up the scenario, the Pricing Calculator instantly develops the answers you’re seeking. Some of the answers include:
The actual total hourly cost of your equipment
The true cost of fabrication per material unit
Recommended changeout rates by weight, volume or time
The minimum charge for a print job
MakerOS Pricing Calculator Experience
The 3D print pricing calculator [Source: MakerOS]
After providing all the inputs, I had a lot more confidence in the numbers MakerOS was providing. We gave the Pricing Calculator a test at our Fabrication Lab by entering a series of scenarios corresponding to our particular 3D printer configurations and compared the Pricing Calculator results to our list prices.
In every case our prices were off. Sometimes they were close, but in other cases they were way off. For these the Fabrication Lab was no doubt undercharging for specific 3D printing services.
The folks at MakerOS tell me that they very frequently see this situation: undercharging is rampant, apparently. It’s because the problem of price calculation is so nefariously tricky that many do not account for all the factors.
But you can with MakerOS’ Pricing Calculator. If you’re struggling with 3D print pricing, please take a look at MakerOS.