Cost Savings of 3D Printing

3D printing is the perfect companion for Model Railways, especially at OO scale where objects are large enough to work within the resolution available on today's 3D printers, but small enough to fit within the typical print area available on those same 3D printers. 3D printing can help eliminate some of the more tedious repetitive modeling tasks while putting innovation back in the hands of those in the hobby. Model Railways can be an expensive hobby, with some products marked up considerably without too much innovation. 3D printing offers an opportunity for some cost savings and innovation in some areas, to help offset the rising cost of ready to run models.


Short-term Upfront Costs

3D printers vary quite considerably in price, performance and quality. As with anything there is a trade-off. There are a number of disruptive manufacturers based in China. JG Aurora is one of those companies, their printers are reasonably priced and good quality. Trackside3D has several JG Aurora printers, problems tend to be minor on their lower cost models such as the A5, problems such as screws needing adjusted or tightened. Their mid-range z603s printer has had no problems. With that in mind, we will be using their A5 printer for this cost analysis and the UK market. We are also making the assumption that the customer already has a computer.

The short-term cost for the JG Aurora A5 is £235. This is roughly the same as the bargain price for a brand new Hornby GWR HST over at Hattons (DCC Ready). 


Production Costs

The JG Aurora A5 uses 1.75mm filament, which is roughly on average about £15 per 1kg spool (in the United States, you can get this for about $19 delivered from Amazon per spool). This works out to be around 1.5p per gram (US$0.019). While the 3D printer does use electricity, the electrical costs in producing most 3D models is quite negligible. If you live in a region where electricity is expensive, you may want to factor this in if you plan to do a lot of 3D printing.


In addition to the raw material, you need to factor in the cost of the 3D model itself. While 3D models can take anywhere from a short coffee break to several days to create, Trackside3D helps minimize that cost by offering reasonably priced 3D models for personal use. The average cost of our 3D models is under £4. 


Averaging Costs

Depending on the size of your layout and what you are modeling, your needs can easily vary. For a general view of 3D printing costs, we will make the assumption that you will print at least 12 copies of each 3D model that you purchase, and each one uses about 4g of material. A fence post maybe something you need 40 copies of, while level crossing gates you may only need 2. However the amount needed and the material used should average out pretty close in the long run. We will also make the assumption that you will need about 20 different models.


20 models x 10 copies x 4 grams

20 models x £4.00 = £80

12 copies x 4 grams = 48 grams x 20 models = 960 grams (round up to 1kg)


This works out to be £95 (£15 for the spool, plus £80 for the digital files).

Taking an average cost of a popular brand of accessory, the cost is roughly averaged around £4 per pack of 6 items. So if we 3D printed 240 items (20 models x 12 copies), then we would need 40 packs of accessories. At a price of £4 per pack that amounts to £160. The 3D printer has saved us £65 on just accessories. When you start to compare more expensive items such as buildings or rolling stock, the cost savings are considerably greater. 

Factoring in the cost of the printer

When you look at the average savings of about £65, this is already almost a quarter of the cost of the 3D printer and we just averaged some accessories. When Trackside3D looked into the viability of 3D printing for Model Railways in early 2018, the cost analysis on just one part of the oorail layout was several times this due to the type of accessories we needed. 


Signals and Rolling Stock

When you factor in the cost of signals, which can be kit-built using 3D printing, LEDs and metal tubing, for a fraction of the cost of ready to run alternatives, 3D printing gets very attractive, very quickly. Rolling stock projects are already in progress at Trackside3D, when you factor in the cost of less than £2 for the same freight rolling stock that could cost upwards of £17, the 3D printer quickly pays for itself with just a few wagons. 


3D Printing Makes Sense

As the Trackside3D product range continues to grow, 3D printing just makes more and more sense. From innovative products to tremendous cost savings, 3D printing is providing a new frontier for Model Railways in the 21st century.