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Feb 20 '13

cost = f(size, quantity, technology) + a whole lot more

Was recently looking at costs for producing two different items. We know that the true strength of 3D printing is in customization and geometric complexity.  But, still interesting to see how it compares in production costs for small quantities.  

In this case, we prices out two different parts.  One, a very small bracket (~1cm^3) and one a larger jig (~50 cm^3).  To compare, we obtained quotes from Shapeways and Protomold.  And for simplicity, we just assume the cheapest material from each.  

We then plotted out the *total* cost of production for different quantities.  As we would expect, the tooling costs of the molds resulted in 3D printing being cheaper at lower quantities in both cases.  

But, in the case of the larger part, the cost of the 3D printing material meant that over 100 units, Protomold became the cheaper solution.  Where, for the smaller part, 3D printing was cost effective over 1000 units.  

This is a very simple example, but highlights some important points:

  • material cost clearly drives cost curves since specialty 3D materials are still quite expensive.  
  • tooling for low volume injection molding is much cheaper than traditional molds.  but 3D printing tooling is always zero (variable)
  • predicting demand is critical for total cost minimization 

And, most importantly, it is crucial to explore materials, vendors and technologies when pricing out a part.  The savings can be significant.  


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