Professionals buying a 3D printer – or investing in any piece of new capital equipment – often have one major question about their purchase: what’s the return on investment?
ROI is a major concern. Businesses have to justify any spending they do and expect to see new investments prove their value. The faster the ROI, the sooner that investment turns to profitability.
3D Printing Market Environment
When it comes to technologies like 3D printing, the proof point for ROI can seem nebulous or out of reach. The overhype this industry saw a decade ago didn’t do it any favors, especially now when 3D printer producers try to say that they mean it this time, that their desktop system can really have value in a business operation.
Now that 3D printing has evolved to a point that it is more frequently recognized as an industrial tool, the world is plagued by pandemic and looming recession. 2023 has already been described as “the year of the Grinch” and “the dark days of additive” – even, as one investor said, with AM being in “a trough of a trough.”
Getting the value proposition across for a nascent technology is tough at the best of times and, well, these aren’t the best of times. (See: layoffs and budget cuts.)
It doesn’t help that, realistically, most 3D printers are still toys. Some are a $100K+ toy for Fortune 100 R&D teams, others are $250 toys for home hobbyists, but really – if it’s being used to only print prototypes or miniatures, it’s a toy. What’s the difference between a toy and a tool?
3D Printer ROI Revamped
Especially with so many options out there for professional 3D printers, from desktop to industrial, price points vary along with material capabilities. But what if you have a demanding part to make, one that needs to stand up to the toughest environments? Do you have to buy a six- or seven-figure 3D printer and then all the accessories that go along with it?
What if you could print a $400 part…on a $400 printer?
What if you could see ROI within a day? Within a print?
It’s a little radical, but that could be a version of the future for resin 3D printing. If lower-cost desktop 3D printers could handle engineering-grade materials that have so far only worked on industrial machines, that idea of desktop manufacturing could actually be within reach.
Turning 3D Printing Economics Upside Down
The value of the 3D printer is, essentially, the sum of the value of the parts it can print over its useful life, minus the material and operating costs.
The value of the parts is, in turn, gated by the functional use cases for the parts. Higher-quality materials raise the value proposition of all 3D printers, regardless of their price point. For inexpensive 3D printers, materials have the potential to flip the economics of 3D printing on its head.
This industry loves to talk about “democratizing manufacturing,” but a lot of times that democracy is still a pay-to-play system. When “production-grade” 3D printers cost a minimum of $100,000, how “democratized” is that? That investment may be 10x less than a million-dollar traditional piece of manufacturing machinery, but remains beyond the reach of many SMEs.
Whatever the investment is into new equipment, ultimately the intent is to see that investment returned – to see the equipment bring in revenues that meet and then exceed the cost to bring it in in the first place. That’s ROI. That’s when profitability begins and business can really get going.
For a new 3D printer, accuracy, print speed, and build envelope all factor into the ROI for producing a given part. But unless that part is for, say, dental or audiology use, these factors are not inherently limiting the ROI.
If you are really truly in additive serial production right now and just need a 10% boost on your throughput, congratulations! For the rest of the world…we need additive manufacturing processes that are actually capable of displacing traditional forms of manufacturing.
Truly durable materials capable of making end-use parts are the gating factor to giving more people ROI on their 3D printers, because unless you can actually print a part that is a safe and qualified replacement for injection molding, there is no more math to do.
If the ROI of AM were already overarchingly amazing, then additive manufacturing would be much more than the current ~0.1% of the overall manufacturing sector. If the ROI of AM were already amazing, we wouldn’t see bankruptcies within a calendar year of moves onto the public market.
But what if the ROI of AM could be amazing? What if we turned it on its head? What if we could uncover that ROI now?
Then it’s not, “Dude, Where’s My ROI?” – it’s “Dude, Where’s My 3D Printer Setup So I Can Get Started?”
polySpectra and Additive Integrity are participating at Additive Manufacturing Strategies, taking place in New York City from February 7-9, 2023. Raymond Weitekamp, Founder and CEO of polySpectra, will be taking part in Session 3, Panel 2: The Future of Composites and Polymers in AM on February 7. Sarah Goehrke, Founder of Additive Integrity; Member of the Board of Directors and Head of DEI at Women in 3D Printing’ and Member of the Board of Advisors of the Additive Manufacturing Coalition, will be moderating Session 2, Panel 1: Dental Printer Trends on February 8 and Session 3, Panel 2: Innovations in the AM Contract Services Market on February 9. Register for your ticket to attend here.
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