New research says that because you can now download plans to 3-D print so many household items, you can offset the cost of a 3-D printer. Is this the start of a 3-D printer in every home? Do you like this 3-D printed shower head?

As long as you feel like you’d spend money on these 20 items over the life of your 3-D printer, then maybe. Do you need a spoon holder?

Pierogi mold.

Paper towel holder.

iPhone tripod.

Watch band?

Acoustic guitar pickup.

This thing.

Orthopedic insoles.

iPhone holder.

Key hanger.

Shower curtain rings.

Wall plates.

Calipers.

Garlic press.

Creepy necklace hanger.

iPhone case.

iPhone dock.

An extra iPhone dock, for your other iPhone.

2013-08-08

Co.Exist

Print These 20 Things You Don't Really Need And Your 3-D Printer Pays For Itself

3-D printing technology is nearing at a tipping point that makes it actually affordable—but only if you really need that jewelry organizer or garlic press.

On Thingiverse, a site where anyone can share their 3-D digital designs for others to use, you can find the blueprints for printing a world of oddities: a scale model of a great white shark skull, Star Wars cufflinks, and the "Monster Cube" puzzle, to name a few entries among the 60,000 open-source designs that Joshua Pearce, a researcher at Michigan Technological University, estimates live on the site.

But among the curiosities are also a growing number of common household items that can be made on a 3-D printer and are actually pretty useful. So Pearce decided to do the math.

In a study published in the journal Mechatronics in July, Pearce discusses 20 common household items he found on Thingiverse, and how he then searched Google Shopping to calculate a range of what it would cost to get these items shipped to his door. He compared these to the costs of making the items on a home 3-D printer, including the price of materials and even the electricity consumed during the estimated print time.

His conclusion? "For the average American consumer, 3-D printing is ready for showtime," he writes. If a consumer printed only those 20 items in a year (really, he could do it in a weekend for a total of $18), the avoided purchase costs would range from $300 to $2,000.

That means a 3-D printer could pay for itself in as little as four months and at least within two years. The payback time could shrink even more, he says, especially as 3-D printers become more affordable, reliable and easy to repair by making their own parts. Earlier this year, Staples began selling 3-D printers starting at $1299.99.

This all seems exciting on the surface. These days, everyone from President Obama to General Electric CEO Jeff Immelt talks up the potential for 3-D printing to reinvent how the U.S. does business—helping to bring manufacturing back to domestic shores, but also allowing average households to have their own mini-factories at home.

However, the list of 20 items in Pearce’s study should give us pause. They include a key hanger, a jewelry organizer, a garlic press, a paper towel holder, a spoon holder, a Pierogi mold and several kinds of iPhone cases, docks and stands. Pearce deliberately chose affordable items in his study. But for people on a budget, buying a mold to make Pierogis (which, by the way, are delicious) isn’t exactly going to make or break the daily budget calculation. It’s also worth questioning whether another item on the list—a shower head—could possibly function as well in a plastic 3-D print compared to a store-bought item that has been designed to last.

Nevertheless, the trend is growing. It will get easier and more affordable to make things at home on a 3-D printer, and soon these devices will be cheap enough that it will make sense for many people to jump in and buy one. But Amazon and Walmart shouldn’t be worried about competition just yet.

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11 Comments

  • BeeKaaay

    Some of these things you can buy at the dollar store.
    Yeah, I'll spend $10K on a 3D printer to save a dollar.... NOT

    ....

  • John West

    Almost all the comments on this post are REALLY hating - it's pretty funny.

  • quintuenoahs

    I see only low-resolution, crusty, unattractive junk. I realize there is a lot of potential for this technology; but for now it's inhabited by hobbyists with too much time and money on their hands. Until someone refines this technology enough that it can actually do something useful, this might be going the way of "virtual reality," which was supposed to be taking the world by storm in the early 1990s. 
    Why would I download plans for something and print it 3-D when I can just order it and have it overnight, at a much higher quality and in any color, material or texture I want? Quit wasting plastic on things people don't need. 

  • idfarmer

    To the author: Regarding photo number 4 and 5 please respect the designers who posted these works on Thingiverse (and all designers for that matter). I know specifically that Thingiverse user Areeve20 and ComradeQuiche use the Creative Commons - Attribution - Share Alike license for the works that you have shown. Thank you.

  • smilingavenger

    What about children's toys, repair of broken items that would need replacing and convenience inventions? The study of low use gadgets is almost insulting to the potential of 3D printing. 

  • Jacob Lageveen

    More and more stuff gets printed with the 3d printers. If the price is down to like 1300 bucks allready, itll be a year for them to drop below 500 if the new range of stuff gets released.

  • Jacob Lageveen

    More and more stuff gets printed with the 3d printers. If the price is down to like 1300 bucks allready, itll be a year for them to drop below 500 if the new range of stuff gets released.

  • Daniel Puls

    The one thats listed as "this thing" is a piece of train track from the childrens sets, like Thomas the train or Chuggington. Usually made of wood, these sets can get expensive