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(2. What are the limitations?)


What's all this going to cost?

System Costs
Professional-level additive fabrication systems cost from $3,000 to $800,000. The least expensive professional machines are based on thermoplastic extrusion; the most expensive are specialized stereolithography and laser sintering machines. You can find every manufacturer in our commercial listings.

Selecting a technology depends on many factors such as application, material requirements, and of course, price. Some guidance is available from the following sections of the FAQ's.

In addition, there are appreciable costs associated with training, housing and maintenance. For example, it can cost more than $20,000 to replace a laser in a stereolithography system, and since laser output power decreases over time it will be required at some point. The high capital costs and complex operating procedures for some technologies provided a strong impetus for the establishment of the service bureau industry. A service bureau is a good choice for trying a technology out, and also if your use is occasional. The table in the tutorial section gives an overview of pricing and system specs.

Another choice, is to purchase a used system for considerable savings. In some cases, however, system manufacturers have limited the market by making the operating software license non-transferrable. Best to check with the manufacturer first. Several companies specialize in selling and leasing previously-owned RP systems, and they're also a good source of guidance. It's not well-known, but some of the large system manufacturers also supply refurbished equipment. You'll have to ask, though, since they don't usually volunteer the information.

Fully-assembled hobbyist machines can be had for as little $500 and range up to $3,000. There are many trade-offs compared with professional equipment, such as less-assured accuracy, difficult to use software and poorer warranty terms and support. However, if your needs are simply for form and fit models and rudimentary parts, you could save a lot of money. New entries in this category are as good as professional machines of several years back.

Part Costs
The table shows a nearly seven to one difference between the most and the least expensive technologies. While this shows the results of a study done for NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center, the authors indicate that the numbers should be comparable to industry scales.

One way of getting a quick idea of commercial costs today is by using a service bureau that provides online quoting services. Depending on part size, material and the technology, the cost can range from less than $20 to $1,000 - and well beyond.

There is no substitute for having a specific part quoted, of course, but it can be interesting and informative to look at the selling prices for particular items on a fabrication community site such as Shapeways. The company offers multiple materials and processes for many items, providing a convenient way to quickly get your feet wet.

You can also use Shapeways as a service bureau and receive fast quotes for more technologies and materials than the average service bureau provides. Shapeways and similar organizations such as i.materialise are aimed at consumer applications, so if your needs are for accurate engineering parts you may want to stick with a traditional service bureau.

Comparison of Additive Technologies [1]
Technology - >> MJM
[3D Systems' original
version of the technology.]
[from Cubic Technologies]
Material wax-like plastic ABS plaster polystyrene paper epoxy-based photopolymer
Accuracy vs CAD (inches) 0.013 0.014 0.025 0.018 0.010 0.006
Build Time 7 hr 17 min 42 hr 10 min 5 hr 40 min 6 hr 51 min 19 hr 39 min 26 hr 19 min
Cost $146.00 $421.60 $113.20 $268.00 $393.20 $789.90

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From Here...

Brief RP Technology Tutorial
RP Technology Comparison Chart
Detailed RP Technology Tutorial


1. Evaluating RP Methods: NASA's Side-by-Side Comparison; Ken Cooper, Glen
Williams, Pat Salvail; Modern Casting, Feb. 2002, pp 28-30; based on a
presentation at the 2001 SME Rapid Prototyping & Manufacturing Conference.
Proceedings available from the SME at 313-271-1500.

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REV 5 - - - 10/24/12