Opinion: what increases the cost of 3D printing materials and what could make it drop?

Image: Tom Claes – via Unsplash

As you may have already seen through various applications and dossiers, choosing a material is crucial to ensure both the durability of the end-product and the success of the manufacturing process. The thing is, the cost of this material can have the most significant impact on the final cost of the product – This may raise several questions regarding the actual production, or even the manufacturing purpose. So what explains the expensive costs of materials?

Let’s take a simple look at a 3D printing filament. In the first place, there are so many reasons why a filament can be costly. Some of the reasons that I can think off right now is the lack of design optimization, the use of metal, the use of resins, powdered materials or additives, the need for spooling, the poor project planning, or even the use of “exotic” materials.

Added to that some of the consequences of the current economic downturn due to the pandemic (manufacturing facilities that have filed for bankruptcy due to impromptu events, shipping container management imbalances or unexpected high and low demands from the market), you may obtain a scenario where polymer manufacturers allocate some quotas to their customers, or even worse, decrease the quantity of products (or some ingredients like resin) to continue achieving a premium product.

Would this ever drop someday?

A recent report reveals that resin supply is currently outstripping demand. In case you do not know, resin is a crucial ingredient for the production of almost all polymer 3D printing materials (powders, filaments, pellets and liquids). This abundant supply has led to a decrease of prices since June 2022. July PE contracts decreased $0.03/lb, wiping away the contentious increase garnered in May, reports the PlasticsExchange.

Furthermore, the price of oil – another substance from which many polymers are fabricated – has also been decreasing lately.

According to market intelligence firm ICIS, China’s stumbling economy, consequences of the war in Ukraine, and threats of recession have put intense pressure on commodity prices, which have begun to fall sharply in the major petrochemical and plastics producing and consuming regions of the world.

The monthly ICIS Petrochemical Index (IPEX) also predicts a near-collapse in polymer pricing due to lockdowns in China that led to a temporary closure of factories, and the war in Ukraine that led to shutting down of activities in factories.

How does this affect the 3D printing/AM market?

Well the manufacturing value chain that turns the aforementioned base materials and other substances into effective 3D printing filaments is quite long. However, a price change at the beginning of this chain is likely to impact the entire process. It’s therefore a matter of time for manufacturers to see this change of price affect their production operations.

 The sad reality is, we are currently dealing with price inflation everywhere. So even if these changes positively affect our industry, we might not know it right now as some resellers could easily be tempted to maintain their prices high. Maybe, and I say maybe if a producer decides to lower its price when the time comes, it might lead to a snowball effect that can actually benefit the whole industry.

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