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3D Print and the Total Cost of Ownership

The recent introductions from both HP and Carbon have not only affected how we can produce functional parts in new print processes but they are also approaching the investment in two very distinct ways.  Carbon only leases their solutions for a specified period of time with no true ownership – similar to the way software licenses have gone to subscription models.  HP has chosen to create an open powder platform that they believe will drive down consumable prices to lower the cost per print.  At a lower cost per print, along with the output being functional, the goal is for new opportunities and applications to displace and/or augment traditional manufacturing processes while speeding up design cycles.

What these new pricing models mean, is the way you look at the total investment for 3D printing, or cost of ownership has changed.  As an example, I’ll discuss the HP model, since I am familiar with it.

Currently, HP’s consumable cost is around $3 per cubic inch and can go as low as $2, based on efficiencies.  I’ll assume the $3 going forward to err on the higher side.   Although this pricing is not uncommon in the production 3D print space with SLS and SLA, it’s more typical that part costs are upwards of $8 per cubic inch on traditional jetted technologies – plus the cost of support material.

The traditional jetted 3D printers we implemented had an initial investment of just about $ 110,000 and running cost for material was $8- $9 per cubic inch.  Let’s assume you are running 500 cubic inches per month of build and support material – that’s $4,000 per month in consumable expenses.  Compare this to HP which currently has an initial investment of about $240,000 for the print system and, at $3 per cubic inch, the monthly consumable expense would be $ 1,500.  This is an estimated $2,500 savings in the material by running HP.  Spread out over time, that would have a breakeven point of somewhere around 56 months.

Now, this may seem like a long period, but the real advantage is the new applications that HP (and Carbon) open up, along with the fact that system pricing and consumable pricing will continue to lower as machine adoption grows.  Traditional prototype machines are often limited by throughput and material properties, with the production output from these new technologies the breakeven point is often moved up considerably through new applications.

For an example of throughput, take the example of 500 cubic inches of printing per month. The HP technology can print this in a matter of days, where often the typical jetted or FDM technologies would take weeks.

Now, I realize all these numbers are examples, and everyone’s true numbers may be different. But, the point I am trying to make is the way we look at total cost of ownership and payback is shifting.  Beyond the initial equipment investment, it’s important to understand all the costs of supporting a printing process.

Lastly, my example only covers one portion of cost because you also need to look into things such as support contracts, finishing equipment, software resources, etc… so there is more to it and that’s the trick – looking beyond machine acquisition expense to fully understand the true investment over the life of the unit.

The game is changing for manufacturing and in my opinion, this is a good shift that will open up new processes and markets for 3D printing.

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