We Have A Problem: 3D Printers Are Too Expensive

Hackaday, we have a problem. 3D printing is changing the world but it’s still too expensive to be embraced as a truly transformative technology.

With each passing year, the 3D printing industry grows by leaps and bounds. Food safe PLA is now the norm, with dissolvable and other exotic filaments becoming more mainstream.  New filaments are making it possible to print objects that were not possible before. New CAD software is popping up like dandelions, with each iteration giving novice users a friendly and more intuitive interface to design 3D models. As time marches on, and we look into its future, a vision of the 3D printing world is evident – its only going to get bigger.

3d printerImagine a future where a 3D printer is as common as an ink jet printer in homes all across the world.  A future where you could buy filament from the supermarket down the street, and pick up a new printer from any hardware store. A future where dishwashers, refrigerators and bicycles come with .stl files that allow you to print upgrades or spare parts. A future where companies compete to give the market easy-to-use printers at the cheapest price.

Is this future possible? Not until the technology changes. It’s too expensive, and that’s the problem you’re going to solve. How can you make a 3D printer cheaper? A cheap printer could change the game and make our future a reality.

Where do we need cost savings?

To get you going, here are some parts of common 3D Printers which think need to find cost-saving solutions.


Stepper motors are going to run you about $15 each. Is it possible to use cheaper DC motors with some type of position tracking while keeping the cost down?


Threaded rod is probably the cheapest way to move your XYZ axis. What about couplings and guide rods? Check out how this guy made a CNC out of parts from his local hardware store.


No arduino with Easysteppers here – too expensive. We’ve just seen a super cheap controller a few days ago. If we use something other than NEMA steppers, it will radically change the typical electronic controller for our super cheap 3d printer.


What is the cheapest way to melt and extrude plastic? What about using thermistors in place of thermocouples? Let’s think out of the box with this, and see if we can get away from the typical stepper motor based extruder. Remember, everything is low cost. If we have to sacrifice some resolution, that is OK.

So there you go. Let’s hear your input on the issue. We need to make 3D printers a lot more affordable and we want to hear any ideas you have on the topic in the comments below. Do you think this is in our future and why?

The 2015 Hackaday Prize is sponsored by:

The Hackaday Prize: An Ultra Low Cost 3D Printer Controller

This isn’t a Hackaday Prize entry that will change the world, but that doesn’t mean there’s not a place for it. [vdirienzo] is building an ultra low-cost 3D printer controller for 3D printers and other CNC machine. It’s not going to change the world, but it is a rather interesting little device.

This printer controller is very minimal, with a single-sided circuit board with just enough parts and components to make this board useful. The stepper motor drivers are from Pololu, and most of the other components are stuff you could pull out of a reasonably stocked junk drawer. The microcontroller is rather interesting; it’s an Arduino Nano. Instead of the ATMega644 and ‘Mega1280 microcontrollers found on other 8-bit printer controller boards, [vdirienzo] slimmed down the Teacup firmware to fit on the ATMega328 in the Arduino Nano.

The SinapTec is not by any means the first effort to create an ultra low-cost controller board for a 3D printer that can be assembled at home. The RepRap Gen 7 electronics can be manufactured on a RepRap or small CNC mill. There’s not much to these boards – just a small, single-sided board. If you want a small, simple, and cheap controller board for a 3D printer, this is all you need.

While a cheap 3D printer controller board doesn’t really fit with the ‘change the world’ theme of The Hackaday Prize, that doesn’t mean there’s still not a place in the contest for [vdirienzo]’s entry; we have a Best Product category, with a $100k prize and a six month residency in the Hackaday Design Lab. If that’s not enough reason to build something cool – even if it won’t change the world – we don’t know what is.

The 2015 Hackaday Prize is sponsored by:

BeagleBone Black + RAMPS


The BeagleBone Black, with an impressive amount of computing power and a whole bunch of I/O, would make an impressive CNC controller, save for two shortcomings: The BBB isn’t in stock anywhere, and CNC capes are a little on the pricey side. [Marc Peltier] can’t do anything about finding a distributor that doesn’t have the BeagleBone on backorder for you, but he did come up with an adapter for the very popular RAMPS-FD 3D printer controller board (Forum, French, Here’s the Google translation matrix).

The RAMPS-FD is an extension of the RAMPS board and a shield for the Arduino Due. Both the Due and BBB work on 3.3 V, meaning controlling the RAMPS-FD is simply a matter of finding the correct wiring diagram and pin assignments on the BeagleBone. [Marc] solved this problem by using the settings from the BeBoPr cape and using the existing BeBoPr LinuxCNC configuration.

The end result of [Marc]’s tinkering is something a lot like [Charles Steinkueler]’s CNC capes for the BeagleBone Black we saw at the Midwest RepRap Fest. [Charles] isn’t selling his capes, but no one else seems to be selling BeagleBone Blacks, either.

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