3D Printing Cost Estimation – Did You Think of Everything?

This is a guest post by Castor. Castor provides cost estimation for its customers, by analyzing which parts are 3D printable.


Estimating 3D printing costs is important, but can also be challenging. This is the time to ensure you’ve thought of everything.

  • Did you consider the labor time it takes to clean the parts in your 3D printing cost estimation?
  • What about the ROI on the printer itself?
  • What happens when you load only half of the printing tray each print?
These are some of the key questions you should ask as you explore this option.

Cost estimation for 3D printed parts: Is it predictable?

One of the hardest tasks an engineer faces these days is to estimate the cost of machine parts. In traditional manufacturing methods, such as CNC and injection molding, it might be difficult to predict the price of a part prior to production. Whereas with 3D printing, similar printing techniques might have a similar cost.

Learn More About Prototyping

The role of estimating a full machine Bill of Materials (BOM) during the New Product Introduction (NPI) phase is critical for the company’s product owner – they must choose the right manufacturing method for each one of the parts of a hardware product. Especially when it comes to a huge CAPEX investment in molding/casting in early stages of the project. Dealing with low volume/high complex products only makes the need for cost estimation stronger, since high COGS might prevent launching the product even though it passes the R&D phase.

Cost estimation main parameters

When analyzing a part for 3D printability, it’s important to have a ballpark of the costs involved while making the part with 3D printing. This calculation includes elements such as the material cost, the printing time, the labor cost involved to prepare the print and clean it afterwards, the depreciation of the printer cost, the post processing time and more. All of those aspects have large variation when it comes to different materials, different countries and different printing technologies. Here are some of the main guidelines:

  • Material cost - calculate the amount of material needed for the part, including both rigid material and support material
  • 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
  • The labor cost - preparing the print prevents maintenance time for each printer and improves the ease of use to send a print to the OEM’s software. It also calculates the amount of time needed to take the part off the printing tray and clean it from its support material. Again, there can be a large variation here 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 3rd party devices)
  • Depreciation of the 3D printer cost - for  those who own a printer, and the time period they are looking for return on investment. The initial price of the printer determines the starting point, but the depreciation time is sometimes determined by the lifecycle of the printing technology in the market. (Desktop printers are obviously different than industrial printers in that manner)
  • Post process - calculation might include polishing, painting, heat treatment processes and extra machining (mostly metal). All of those usually derive from the part’s surface finish and accuracy requirements. It might take up to 100-200% from the part’s cost to perform such a post process. (One of the biggest advantages of working with service bureaus is having those services in one place, and thus the price might be cheaper)


1 Material cost Support/model material cost per cm^3
2 Printing time Part’s volume/printer build rate
3 The labor cost Print preparation, Machine efficiency
4 Depreciation of the 3D printer cost Annual depreciation, Machine operation cost
5 Post process Part’s cleaning, polish, painting, hardening time

If you’d like to learn more about this process, CASTOR can help.


CASTOR is a complete decision support system for utilizing industrial 3D printing. It allows manufacturers to save time and money by determining to use 3D printing or traditional manufacturing methods.

Your first report is FREE.  Contact us at www.3dcastor.com  

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