3D printing has become mainstream, with many smaller printing machines available at affordable prices online. If you’ve looked for a metal 3D printer before, you may have noticed that they’re pretty pricey. So, when will metal printers become affordable?
According to experts, metal 3D printers will be affordable in the next few years. Since metal 3D printers are costly to design, they haven’t been released to the general public. Printing with metal is also dangerous, and the filament is more expensive than plastic filaments.
This article will look at what makes metal printers so expensive and the minimum price for which you can get a metal printer. I’ll also provide you with a list of alternative materials as strong as metal that you can print using a regular printer.
Why Are Metal 3D Printers So Expensive?
Metal 3D printers are so expensive because they are a relatively new technology that requires expert engineering and heat-resistant materials to produce. The filament and maintenance costs also contribute to the high costs of printing metal.
So, let’s look at some of the costs involved in metal 3D printing:
Metal Filament is Costly
Metal 3D printing filament is expensive and comes in a unique design that fits a specific printer.
Since most metal printers are made on-demand, every printer is different. Hence, the metal powder used in these printers also needs to be made according to the printer requirements. Besides, high-grade metal is generally more costly than most plastics.
Metal 3D Printers Are Expensive To Make
Many metal printers print materials using gas atomization, which involves melting the metal before moving it through the printer nozzle. Others may use lasers or distribute chemicals on metal powders that produce a reaction, hardening the metal.
No matter how the printer works, metal printing always results in significant heat generation, so the printer needs to have quality components to prevent breakdowns. Also, metal printers use complex cooling technology manufactured at a high cost.
Designing metal printers is also a high-skilled occupation, and it may take several months to produce one printer. Add in the shipping costs, taxes, and other related costs, and the cost of making a new 3D printer skyrockets!
Metal Printers Need More Power and Safety Precautions
Printing costs (minus the material costs) are also higher in metal printers than regular printers. Metal printers require more power to print at much higher temperatures than standard 3D printers. You’ll also need the proper safety materials to prevent spills and printer damage.
Furthermore, while some metals can be cooled with simple fans, most metal prints require more complex cooling machinery. Add all these costs together, and the average cost of printing a metal model will be higher than making it with other methods.
It Costs More To Maintain a Metal 3D Printer
Lastly, the maintenance costs of 3D metal printers are also exceptionally high. The high printing temperatures will tax the parts, which may need servicing after every few prints.
In the case of larger prints, you may need to service the printer after every job! In contrast, the cost of maintaining an FDM or SLA 3D printer is minimal.
How Much Do Metal 3D Printers Cost?
Metal 3D printers cost between $10,000 and $1 million. The cheapest 3D metal printer will be around $10000, but these printers are still in testing mode and have fewer functions than a custom-built 3D printer.
If you’re looking for one that can print reliable models, then you’ll have to pay upwards of $100,000. Most industrial metal printers start from half a million dollars and may cost as much as a million!
If you’re looking for a “more affordable” metal printer, try the EVO Additive Manufacturing center or the Desktop Metal Studio. The EVO printer is still in beta version, but it costs around a tenth of most metal printers.
However, if you want reliable print quality, you’ll have to have a custom-built printer for upwards of $100,000.
How Long Will It Take for Metal Printers to Become Affordable?
It shouldn’t take more than a few years before metal printers become more affordable, considering the rapid improvement in 3D printing technology. The main area of research to lower the cost of metal printers is material improvement.
3D metal printers require high-grade metal powder to reduce printing errors. Higher quality metal powders solidify and melt at lower temperatures, requiring less complex printer designs. However, as of right now, they are costly and rare, so we’ll have to wait for these metals to become more commonplace before the prices drop.
Another factor that may reduce the prices of metal printers is the improvement in laser technology. Most experts believe that laser 3D printers will be available at lower prices anywhere between 2025 and 2030.
Are There Any Alternatives to Metal 3D Printers?
If you’re looking to print a durable model, you can print with high-grade plastics instead of metal.
There are alternatives to metal 3D printers, and you can use materials such as PETG, ABS, and resin as a substitute. These materials are durable, non-reactive, and comparable to metal prints in many ways.
You can print strong plastics for much less money with an affordable 3D printer. Plastics are also more versatile than metal, can be used in colored prints, and print much faster than metal. So, unless you need to print a specific metal part, a regular 3D printer is a better option.
Here are some of the top affordable 3D printers on Amazon.com:
- Dremel DigiLab 3D45: At less than $2000, this is certainly more affordable than metal printers. It also comes with free lesson plans to get you started with 3D printing.
- MakerBot Replicator+ 3D Printer: MakerBot is one of the more popular 3D printer brands and comes with high camera resolution and a swappable smart extruder.
- FlashForge 3D Printer: With a price tag of around $300, this is one of the most affordable 3D printers. If you’re looking for a printer to practice model creation, this is an ideal choice.
As you can see, these 3D printers come at a fraction of the cost of metal 3D printers. With the ability to print strong-as-steel filament and resin prints at such a low price, using a more typical 3D printer is the way to go while we wait for metal 3D printers to become affordable.
Metal 3D printers are expensive because of the high technology development costs, printing costs, material costs, and maintenance costs. However, with the rapid development of technology, they’re expected to become affordable in the coming years.
Meanwhile, you can print with high-quality plastics such as Resin or PETG for most print models. Many of the best affordable 3D printers can print solid plastic models for a wide range of applications. However, if you want to make a 3D metal print, it’s more affordable to forge the metal with traditional methods instead.
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I started 3D printing since 2013 and have learned a lot since then. Because of this I want to share my knowledge of what I have learned in the past years with the community. Currently I own 2 Bambulab X1 Carbon, Prusa SL1S and a Prusa MK3S+. Hope you learn something from my blog after my years of experience in 3D printing.