3D Printing Could Become Mainstream: Make it Yourself to Save (Video)

First Posted: Jul 30, 2013 09:07 AM EDT

3D printing may be coming out of the lab and into your living room. At least, that's what one scientist believes. New research shows that 3D printing could save American consumers thousands of dollars, which could be the incentive needed for it to enter the mainstream in a big way.

3D printing involves a printer that deposits multiple layers of plastic or other materials to make almost anything. In fact, NASA has recently investigated the use of food printing for long term space missions. Yet these printers can also create toys, tools or kitchen gadgets, and designs that direct the printers are freely available on websites like Thingiverse. Visitors can download these designs and make their own products using open-source 3D printers, like the RepRap, which you can build yourself from printed parts, or those that come in a box ready to print. In other words, 3D printing is primed to enter the household.

In order to examine how likely it would be for 3D printing to become part of the mainstream, the researchers chose 20 common household items listed on Thingiverse. They then used Google Shopping to determine the maximum and minimum cost of buying these 20 items online, shipping charges not included. Afterward, they found out the cost of making these items with 3D printers.

So how did the costs stack up? It turns out that it would cost the typical consumer from $312 to $1,944 for buy these items. In contrast, it would cost a consumer just $18 to make them in a single weekend. Needless to say, that's a massive reduction in costs.

That's not to say that 3D printers themselves are cheap. Open-source 3D printers have prices that range from about $350 to $2,000. Yet these costs are outweighed by the savings, assuming a family prints enough items in a year. In fact, the scientists estimated that they could pay for themselves in as little as a few months.

Of course, 3D printing isn't quite as easy to accomplish as 2D printing. "But you don't need to be an engineer or a professional technician to set up a 3D printer," said Joshua Pearce, one of the researchers, in a news release. "Some can set up in under half an hour, and even the RepRap can be built in a weekend by a reasonably handy do-it-yourselfer."

The findings reveal that 3D printing could certainly enter the mainstream and, like other gadgets, could potentially become a daily household item. They could also help form the basis of small-scale manufacturing concerns and have huge potential in developing countries where access to many products is limited. Of course, there's still a long way to go before that happens.

The findings are published in the journal Mechatronics.

Want to see 3D printing in action? Check out the video below, courtesy of YouTube.

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