Unpacking the Price Tag: Why Some 3D Printers Are More Expensive

By on March 22nd, 2024 in Ideas, news

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A LulzBot Sidekick desktop 3D printer in the box [Source: Fabbaloo]

I’m reading a thread on the cost of LulzBot 3D printers, and there are several interesting insights to be found.

In a Reddit thread entitled “Why are Lulzbot printers so utterly expensive?”, the question is posed by author TrackLabs:

“Ive been looking for a 3D Printer for a friend, pretty quickly resulted to Elegoo’s Neptune series, or Creality’s Ender series. Those usually cost like 200-500 with proper sizes and specifications, all good.

Then the friend mentioned Lulzbot, so I checked them out. They have 9 printers in total, the cheapest costs 1.2K, and the newest 8K? What for?

Their specifications are completely basic, sometimes even worse with 0.5mm nozzle instead of 0.4, a rather slow move speed, etc.

Why do these things cost multiple thousands?”

These are all quite true, and many are completely baffled why a company could sell what seems to be similar products at much higher prices. Why would you buy a printer for US$1000 when you can apparently buy a competing model for US$200?

That’s the prevailing view among many desktop 3D printer operators, who tend to buy the lowest cost devices.

However, there’s a lot more to the story. If you read the longish thread, there are several key insights into the pricing differences. I’ll summarize them here:

  • Costs to build a machine in Asia are less than building a machine in the USA
  • LulzBot provides excellent customer service, something often required for corporate purchases
  • LulzBot machines tend to be very well built and multiple responders report using them flawlessly for years
  • LulzBot equipment carries usage certifications not available with Asian equipment, and this allows them to be used in workplaces requiring certified equipment
  • Being made in USA enables sales to government and other organizations that prioritize (or require) US-made products
  • Their market is not home operators, but instead schools, governments, institutions and businesses
  • Large print farms use LulzBot equipment because of long term support and parts availability
  • LulzBot devices are open source, and easy to modify and repair, unlike most Asian equipment
  • LulzBot equipment has NSNs (National Stock Numbers) with the US Defense Logistics Agency, meaning it is trivial for government organizations to simply order them

So you can see, there are quite a few differences between LulzBot equipment and inexpensive Asian gear.

But let’s think about this in practice, which may help explain how this all lands. Consider the case of a governmental agency looking for a 3D printer. They’d spend months angling to get budget to buy 3D printers. Finally they get approval, and they easily order some via the NSN. If they considered a non-NSN device, then they’d have more administrative work to do to explain why, and even risk their budget allocation.

When the LulzBot arrives and is used, it’s likely going to last longer than a typical desktop 3D printer, as described above. This is critically important because if the machines fail, then the organization has to go through the entire budget process again, and risk disapproval. A longer lifetime is hugely valuable in bureaucratic environments.

It’s a matter of trading the value of administrative time against a higher priced item. In many cases, the administration effort costs more than the machine cost difference. For these organizations, attempting to buy a cheap Asian machine is a crazy thought: it would take far more effort to complete and savings wouldn’t be worth the time.

Finally, because the machine likely lasts longer, it should be compared to multiple purchases of cheaper machines. For example, consider operating six years of a LulzBot versus three two-year buy cycles of alternative equipment. It’s not the same.

It’s easy to see the superficial difference in unit price for the equipment, but the truth is that for many organizations there are several other factors that also must be considered when purchasing. In many cases they add up to savings when purchasing the seemingly more expensive machine.

That’s why companies like LulzBot continue to exist. The world is more complex than you may have thought.

Via Reddit

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!

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