Are there options for lowering the cost of filament?
One of the rising phenomenons in the world of 3D printing these days is the concept of low volume manufacturing. This is different from mass manufacturing in that a much smaller volume of parts are produced — quantities that are usually financially infeasible to do with large-scale approaches.
Low volume manufacturing is a perfect application for 3D printing because no tooling is required: parts are printed right away.
This, combined with the availability of reasonable-quality inexpensive desktop FFF 3D printers has triggered the launch of many small-scale manufacturing operations.
An array of 3D printers can produce quite reasonable quantities of parts because of parallel operation, in spite of relatively slow speed of the individual 3D printers. This is basically the opposite of mass manufacturing, where a small number of injection molds (or even just one) rapidly creates parts. However, making that mold can be expensive.
We now see these small 3D print farms appearing in a number of places. Some will accept print requests from those requiring parts, and others do so for their own parts, if many are required. A good example of this would be a craft designer on Etsy, where they 3D print parts on demand for their online shop.
There’s even new software appearing to address this phenomenon. Several companies now produce software suitable to run arrays of 3D printers, with perhaps the most notable being 3DQue. 3DQue also has a service that directly hooks up to Shopify and Etsy, so you can tell this is a very real thing.
However, once established, the major cost after machine acquisition is materials, so it’s critical to obtain filament at the lowest cost possible.
How does one do that? There are two ways.
First one could simply find the lowest individual cost of a spool. There are sources online where you can find filament that’s of at least somewhat reputable quality for as low as US$15 per kg. This is quite a bit lower than the US$20-25 of only a few years ago.
Another approach is to purchase larger quantities of filament all at once, assuming you have confidence that the material will be used. Unfortunately, most online sources seem to sell filament only by single spools. It’s as if they assume their clients are mostly individuals with a single 3D printer — and they’re right.
For those operating 3D printer farms requiring larger quantities of filament there are outlets that specialize in bulk filament purchases, and there are a very few of the consumer-oriented shops that have volume discounts. One is Matterhackers, which offers their house filament for as low as US$16 per kg, if you buy more than 12 spools.
Another source is IC3D, which offers 10kg spools that have a lower per-gram cost than 1kg spools. 3D-Fuel offers discounted pricing for those consuming more than 10kg per month, and up to 35% off for over 1000kg per month.
It’s also possible some sources that sell individual spools may have “behind the counter” offers for bulk purchases. It never hurts to reach out and see if there is something like that available.
If you operate a small 3D printer farm and have been purchasing individual filament spools, there are better ways to optimize your costs.