The Economics of Classroom 3D Printed Aides

The Brighter, Cost-Saving Alternative

Michigan Technological University researchers say that the economic viability of using 3D printed learning tools, instead of buying from Amazon, translates to $1.7 M in savings for the educational community. Many schools budget for their learning aids and the capital needed is indeed huge. However, using 3D printing of open-source learning aid designs could provide a significant return on investment. Today, with help from industry partners, some schools have their own 3D printing labs already.

There are manufacturers, like MakerBot, that provide 3D printing for schools via their StarterLab program. Since 2015, it has offered various combinations of MakerBot Replicator+ 3D printers, MakerBot Replicator Z18 3D printers, filaments, and print heads. Free online educational resources are also offered with installation and training from local partners. Ultimaker is another one and with its CREATE Education Project, provides free resources and support to help educators integrate 3D printing into primary, secondary, and higher education institutions.

The Michigan university conducted a study that investigates the economics of classroom-based 3D printing of open-source digital designs of learning aids, focusing on the use of open-source desktop 3D printers. Five learning aid examples were evaluated for their functionality, physically printed and calculated mass ratios, and 3D printer energy consumption to determine a dollar-to-kilogram cost for printing. They also analyzed the economic viability of an additional 33 learning aid designs, their printing and assembly costs, and compared them to same or inferior Amazon commercial products. Percentage savings were then calculated and scaled up to a world-scale based on download volume rates.

The researchers used MyMiniFactory’s database of kindergarten, elementary, middle, and high school age-appropriate learning aids spanning subjects such as biology, chemistry, design and technology, mathematics, and others. Amazon was the comparative retailer in the study. Using a Lulzbot Taz 6 3D printer and 3mm PLA filament, the researchers 3D printed learning aid designs including a clock, a brain model, a Pythagorean theorem visual aid, a spinal cord model, and a combustion engine.

What were the results of their analysis?

They found that fabricating the average learning aid themselves would provide teachers with 86% cost savings. On average, a 3D printed learning aid saves more than the cost of a 1kg spool of commercial filament. The average learning aid can be downloaded more than 1,500 times, meaning there’s potential for worldwide distribution. The average saving per year for each open-source design was $11,822, with the 38 learning aids analyzed during the study producing a total $450,000 per year saving. To date, these learning aids have each provided an average saving to educators of over $45,000, totaling a $1.7 million saving for the international educational community.

The conclusion is that distributed manufacturing for education will not only save schools money but also provide a significant return on investment of more than 100%.