How to Calculate the Cost of 3D Printing
Updated: Jan 20
Calculating the cost of 3D printing means asking a multitude of questions
● If our company owns a 3D printer, what is the ROI on the printer itself?
● How does the cost per part change when you load only half of the
printing tray each print?
● How much labor time is required to clean the parts after they’ve been
Providing an accurate cost estimate for 3D printing is tricky. There are
companies like Xometry, Materialize and other service bureaus that do a great
job in providing quotation services, but what happens when you have an in-
house printer and want to get a sense of the cost estimation? What kind
of variables do you need to take into consideration or ignore?
CASTOR can provide an accurate cost estimate for 3D printed parts
Is it really possible to predict cost estimation for 3D printed parts?
One of the hardest tasks an engineer faces these days is to estimate the cost
of manufacturing a part in a machine. In traditional manufacturing methods,
such CNC and injection molding, it might be difficult to predict the price of a
part ahead of production, whereas in 3D printing, similar geometries using
similar printing techniques, might have a similar cost.
Managers strive to choose manufacturing methods that both fit the design
functionality of parts of a machine they want to produce, and on the other
hand also make economical sense. Their ability to accurately estimate (and
reduce) the cost of a full machine Bill of Material (BOM) during the New
Product Introduction (NPI) phase, is critical for their product to be
competitively priced. However, some of the more traditional manufacturing
techniques (molding/casting), require huge CAPEX investments in the early
stages of the project resulting in many costly iterations.
When dealing with low volume/high complex products the problem only gets
worse and the need for accurate cost estimation is higher, since high costs of
production can cause delays in launching the product even if it passes the
R&D phase and in many cases can even eliminate a project completely.
What are the main parameters to consider when estimating cost?
As mentioned earlier, when analyzing the 3D printability of a part, it is
important to have at least a rough estimate of the costs involved to assure this
production method is as cost-effective as possible. This calculation should
include elements such as: cost of material, printing time, cost of labor involved
preparing the print and cleaning it afterwards, as well as less straightforward
elements like: the depreciation of the printer, the post processing time and
more. All those elements vary significantly between different 3D printing
technologies, different materials and of course different geographies.
To calculate the cost here are some of the main guidelines:
1. Material cost - calculate the amount of material needed for the part, rigid
material and support material.
2. Printing time - calculate the building rate of each technology to print a
single layer and multiply it by the number of layers needed for the part.
3. Labor cost - to prepare the print, taking into consideration the hours spent
on sending a file for print using the OEM’s software (sometimes files require
additional procedures prior to their print). One should also take into
consideration the cost of labor needed to perform period maintenance tasks
for each printer, and the amount of time needed to take the part off the
printing tray and clean it from its support material. Specifically here, there are
even larger variations between different technologies. (For example, HP Multi-
Jet Fusion has its own cooling and cleaning device, whereas cleaning some
materials out of FDM printers might require a caustic soda stirring in different
4. Depreciation of the 3D printer cost - those who own a 3D printer should
make sure they include this variable and also that they have taken into
consideration the timeframe they estimated to return their investment. The
initial price of the printer determines the starting point, but the depreciation
period is sometimes determined by the technological life of the printing
technology in the market (as opposed to the economic life). Desktop printers
are obviously quite different than the high-end industrial printers.
5. Post process - calculation might include polishing, painting, heat treatment
processes and extra machining (mostly with respect to metals). All of those
are usually derived from a part’s surface finish and accuracy requirements. In
many cases, such post-process can double or triple the part's initial 3D
printing cost. It is important to note that one of the biggest advantages of
service bureaus, is the fact that they aggregate all these services in one
place, and thus enjoy greater cost efficiency.
While specialized quotation services and service bureaus might be able to
provide a price per part, the mission of manufacturers using in-house printers
to estimate the cost of 3D printing is challenging. Some basic elements need
to be considered, but a more detailed calculation of additional elements can
prevent unexpected surprises and assure that the project's BOM is correctly
CASTOR exists to combine intelligence with 3D printing. We connect
manufacturers to 3D printing capabilities enhancing their business and
providing CASTORs technological expertise. CASTOR’s technology allows
manufacturers to avoid costly spending on limited quantity batches and
reduce lead time.
CASTOR automatically runs analysis to determine 3D printability for end-use
parts design and then chooses the suitable technology for print while
maintaining functionality. In addition, CASTOR can turn multiple parts into one
to maximize manufacturing possibilities for unique designs.
Ready to evaluate additive manufacturing for one of your projects?