Monday, January 5, 2015

How 3D printing saves time and money

It's been close to a year and a half since I purchased my current 3D printer (it cost about $1200 at the time, but you can pick one up for about $950 today), and I've lost track of how many times over it has paid for itself, but here's a list of some ways my printer has paid for itself around the house:
Ceiling fan with 3D printed globe retainer clips

1. Replacement for ceiling fan globe retainer clips
My house came with some really nice ceiling fans, but one fan was missing both the glass globe and the holder for the globe. Replacing that ceiling fan would have been expensive, and the ceiling fan model number was impossible to track down. After trying for more than a year to find replacement parts, it looked like my only available option was to replace the entire fan, until I designed and printed retaining clips allowing me to use a $2 globe I found at a local home salvage store as a replacement. Savings: $300-$500 for a ceiling fan of comparable quality + labor for the replacement.
Replacement chair foot (white) next to an original

2. IKEA Gilbert Chair feet
After refinishing a set of IKEA Gilbert chairs, I noticed several missing feet.  IKEA had stopped producing the chairs, so they couldn't help with replacements, so I 3D printed the replacements.
Savings: $30 per chair rescued x 4 chairs with missing feet = $120
(I also sell these)

3. Caulk saver cap
I had to do a little caulking, so I cracked the seal on a tube... and used hardly any of it. I needed a Caulk Saver, but it was late and I couldn't justify the 40-minute round trip to the hardware store to pick up a $2 bit of plastic, to save a $2 tube of caulk. So with the help of a search on, my printer spat out a caulk plug in less time than it would have taken me get to the hardware store.
Savings: $2 and 40+ minutes (x3, we use a lot of caulk)

4. Non-scuff chair feet
We recently moved to a new place and we now have fancy wood floors, but we were (rightly) concerned that our chair feet would scuff our newly refinished floors, so I designed new chair feet with integrated felt pads.
Savings: either $30/chair x 6 chairs = $180 or $5000 for re-re-finishing the floors, depending on how you count.
(I also sell these)

5. Sink de-clogger
Our bathroom sink was clogged with hair and I needed one of those plastic sink de-clogger thingies, but again, couldn't justify the 40-minute round trip to the hardware store for a $2 bit of plastic, so I searched and found a 3D printable de-clogger, and had my sink unclogged in less time than it would have taken me to drive to the hardware store.
Savings: $2 and 40+ minutes (x2, the sink got clogged again)

6. Holiday Tree Topper and Ornaments again saves me from having to leave the house, I made this awesome pixellated star and a few ornaments.
Savings: ~$20 and prevented me from going into a retail store around the holidays, so let's say the printer also saved my sanity.

7. Lace toggles
In Chicago, during the height of the 2013/2014 polar vortex, I got tired of tying and untying my insulated boots all the time, so I found and printed these lace toggles.
Savings: ~$10 and at least 90 minutes of fumbling with laces with numb fingers
Lace toggle for insulated boots

Overall savings:
Somewhere in the $642-$5662 range, over 240 minutes of hardware store runs, 90 minutes of fumbling with laces, labor costs for replacing a ceiling fan, and a tiny bit of my sanity.

Note 1: This list is just non-professional, around-the-house uses, I'm not including my professional use of my printer (prototyping, small scale manufacturing, and contract printing), hobby projects, tools I've made, upgrades to the 3D printer itself, upgrades to my Shapeoko, musical instruments, or the hundreds of other uses I have found for this tool.

My first two prints on my3D printer

Note 2: Yes, I'm not counting the cost of electricity or filament. Filament cost is nearly negligible for most of these projects (filament is ~$30 per Kg, and each of these projects used less than 30g of filament, so about $0.90 per project), and the electricity isn't that expensive either, 3D printers take less power than a desktop computer - up to 300W while getting up to operating temperature, and much less while operating.

Note 3: Please don't write to me about how $600-$5000 is too large a range, and that the lower end of that range doesn't justify the $1200 printer. This list isn't about ROI, it's about the confluence of convenience and money and time savings (and fun). However, if you want to discuss ROI, this printer directly paid for itself in under 2 months when everything in [Note 1] is accounted for, and it has continued to repay the initial investment over the past year and a half.