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Part 4: Building a Business Case for a 3D Printer

In previous articles, we’ve discussed the benefits and costs of 3D printing. In this article, we provide guidance to help you write your business case. You might be asking why we are introducing this topic so early in the series? The reason is that it is important to start thinking about your business case as soon as you have decided that 3D printing is right for your school.
Writing a business case can be time consuming but it is an essential task if you are looking to secure funding. There will be certain details that relate specifically to your school or university, however there are also common elements. In this article, we give you hints and tips that help you write your business case quickly to get your 3D printing funding approved. Real life examples strengthen your business case, we include facts and case studies in this article that you can use to add gravitas to your proposal.

So, let’s looks at the sections that your business case requires.

Business Problem or Opportunity

A key question that the decision maker(s) will ask is “why do we need 3D printing.” What problem does it solve or what opportunity does it present our school or university? The simple answer is, it improves student results, attracts new students and also potential funding such as government grants.

“77% of schools who have adopted 3D printing plan to expand their use of the technology.”

Source: 3D Printing in Education 2016 Report Card, Dimensional Research, 2016.

It is important to note that due to 3D printing’s success in education, many schools and universities have or intend to expand their use of the technology. Research carried out by Dimensional Research in 2016 reported that 77% of schools who have adopted 3D printing plan to expand their use of the technology.

The 3D Printing Opportunity


  1. Educational results: With 3D printing, students are more engaged, their motivation for learning increases, the quality of teaching improves and results are boosted. 3D printing in schools also provides the space for ideas to develop and makes education more fun. When working on a 3D project, students work together, collaborating and problem solving, to improve their designs, skills that will help them in their future careers.  Read part one of this series, “What is 3D Printing & What Are the Benefits for Education?” ( for a detailed explanation of the educational benefits that 3D printing offers.
  2. Student Registration: If you are an independent school or university, attracting new students plays a major part in your annual planning. Offering new and exciting ways to learn can have a strong influence on enticing new students through your doors.
  3. Funding: Offering new ways of learning and driving innovation in education is valued by many educational authorities. It is well known that innovation and strong student registrations both help in securing funding for your school or university so introducing new technology and demonstrating the impact of such initiatives puts you in a strong position for future funding.

“We saw an increase in both student registrations and funding after introducing 3D printing to the school. But by far the most rewarding benefit has been seeing the students becoming more engaged, having fun and succeeding where previously they may have struggled to grasp subjects.”

Lukas Prochazka, Deputy Headmaster, Technical School Prosek

Using real life examples of 3D printing supports your business case, as well as offering insights that help you build your plan. Read how Technical School Prosek, based in the Czech Republic, adopted 3D printing in 2011. In addition to introducing modern technology into the education process, the school found many key benefits of 3D printing in the classroom especially in strengthening students’ motivation to learn.

3D Printing Challenges

Identifying challenges and stating how you will address them will be of interest to anyone approving your business case. The main challenges regarding 3D printing in education are accessibility, security and health & safety.

Throughout this series, we offer guidance on how to address these challenges and get the most out of your 3D printing solution. Part two “How Do You Decide if You Need a 3D Printer?” provides insights for finding the right 3D printing solution. In part five, “Creating the Right Physical Environment for 3D Printing” of this series we’ll cover in more detail tips for creating the right environment. 

In short, by ensuring that your 3D printing system has print management features integrated, your business plan can outline how these challenges can be addressed.

Accessibility One of the main challenges when introducing 3D printing to a school or university is that the printer is locked up and not freely accessible. The reason for this is that many 3D printers are not secure and the so the school or university cannot control who accesses the printer.

“We hear from schools that they buy 3D printers, but often lock them up so students and users cannot access them because there is no way to manage access and costs associated with their use. It defeats the purpose of the 3D printer in education which is meant to motivate student learning. In the end, the printer goes unused.”

Tim Greene, IDC Research Director

This means that the students have to ask permission to use the device. The ideal environment is one where students have open access to a secure 3D printer in an area that doesn’t disturb ongoing classes but that is accessible to all students, including those participating in a lesson. However, 3D printing costs need to be managed, so access needs to be both controlled and monitored.

Security of the 3D printer and 3D object:  3D printing requires more time than printing a page or two of written material. This can mean that the student must leave their project unattended. This risks the project being interrupted or worse, stolen. For these reasons a closed unit with a print management solution that includes authorized ID login credentials for locking and unlocking the chamber doors is vital for securing the 3D printer and the 3D object during printing and once printing is done. Print management will also provide reports that serve as an audit on who is accessing the printers and when.

Health & Safety: Student safety is paramount; the printing material (known as the filament) can reach 215 degree centigrade (419 Fahrenheit), meaning that open units run the risk of causing severe injury should anyone touch the filament, working elements or powerful stepper motors. An enclosed unit significantly reduces the risk of injury, vital in education.

3D Printing Costs

It is vital to present the projected costs of your proposed initiative, not just the initial outlay but also ongoing management costs. When calculating 3D printing costs there are several areas to consider. The cost of the unit, cost of materials, print management software and maintenance. In part three of this series, “How Much Does 3D Printing Cost?” we delve deeper into the topic of the costs associated with 3D printing, providing practical advice so that you can estimate how much 3D printing will cost your school or university.

There are important 3D printing considerations that will impact on costs. Firstly, choose an enclosed, secure printer that protects students from both heat and moving parts and that prevents projects from being stolen, even if enclosed printers are more costly than unenclosed versions.

Secondly, there are solutions on the market that allow you to lease rather than buy your solution, enabling you to spread the cost of both the 3D printer and print management software. A 3D print management solution helps you to monitor and manage costs and optionally offer pay-for-print services thereby optimizing your print budget or covering the costs altogether.

Lastly, in terms of materials, filaments cost can vary widely, ranging from $10 per spool to $160 per spool.  The cost depends on material type, quality weight, color and diameter. For most schools and universities budgeting $60 per spool is sufficient.

Usage will vary but here is a guide: Using a 3D printer for 5 hours a day, over the course of a year your school or university could expect to use from approximately 40 spools of filament. Assuming a cost of $60 per spool the total annual cost of materials would be $2,400. As mentioned previously, to reduce or offset your costs, consider a solution that has an integrated pay-for-print service that allows you to charge users for all or part of their 3D printing. The solution should also enable you to monitor your use and project future costs accordingly. Be aware that costs depend on the size of the project and therefore may vary.

It is also important to use filaments that are designed for the printer. The chemical composition (most importantly, the melting temperature) can vary by filaments. There are variations within PLA filaments, for example, from different manufacturers. Be sure to use filaments that are certified for use on the 3D printer and these costs may vary.

3D Printing as a Solution

Presenting the 3D printing as a solution to those reviewing your business case is important as it demonstrates that you have considered more than just a stand-alone printer. It also enables you to evaluate your options and build the case for your preferred solution. There are several solutions that purport to be education compatible. However, be aware. As already covered in this article there are security and health & safety considerations to make. A closed unit with login credentials is essential, as is a print management solution that enables you to monitor usage, costs and offer pay to print services to recoup 3D printing costs.
How many 3D printers do you need?
A key consideration when looking at a 3D printing solution is the number of 3D printers your school or university requires. Having one 3D printer benefits your school or university but if or when you have the budget to expand, here is a guide of how to calculate the number of 3D printers you need going forward.

Both students and staff should have sufficient access to 3D printers. It is likely that your school or university will experience “peak times” when even tripling your current fleet would be insufficient. Do not worry, it is normal to have times during the day when your suite of 3D printers is at max capacity or even standing idle. Usage is not constant. If you plan to expand your fleet of printers, plan on ten to fifteen 3D printers per five hundred students.
Now let’s look at using 3D printing in the formal classroom. Splitting your students into small groups will also help you to optimize 3D printing in the classroom. Imagine a class of twenty-five students, trying to work with just two 3D printers. Splitting the students into groups of five provides a collaborative learning environment and will reduce queue times. However, we would recommend purchasing five 3D printers to create the optimum classroom experience for your students. If you also plan to support extracurricular activities as little as one unit will be sufficient to support the initial set up of an after school 3D printing club.

In part six of this series, “Finding Your Perfect 3D Print Solution” we provide guidance on all the considerations you need to make to find a professional 3D printing solution that meets all your needs and budget.

3D Printing Project Timescales
Providing a timescale for your project is important as it helps the reviewer understand when the funding will be required and when they can expect to see the return on their investment.

The timescale for your project will be specific to your school or university but the stages remain the same. These are budget approval, planning, implementation, training and launch. The time it takes to secure budget approval differs between school and university, this is something that you should be able to estimate at least. In terms of the remaining stages your chosen provider will be able to offer advice on these and help you plan accordingly.

However, as a guide we would advise you allow between four to six months to plan and implement your 3D printing solution. These are the stages we advise you to follow:
  1. Funding & budget approval: Before you even start to plan anything, check out the funding options and conditions available to your school or university. Allow between one to two weeks for this stage.
  2. Research & planning: Work with your teachers and administrators to discuss their requirements, 3D printing duties and scope of the project. At this stage, you need to narrow down your search for suitable 3D printing solutions and the number of printers you are going to start with. Allow one month for this stage, this will give you the time you need to gather, collate and finalize decisions.
  3. Funds available: This phase differs for all cases. However, depending on the conditions of your funding it can take several months until the money is available, especially for larger projects or projects reliant on EU funding.
  4. Implementation: This is where the timeline speeds up. After submitting your order there will be between one to three business days for shipping. Setting up a dozen printers can take up a whole day. Some companies provide their own technicians on site which significantly reduces the amount of hassle you’ll meet along the way.
  5. Staff training: Find your local ICT trainers or IT partners that provide 3D printing training and choose the learning path that best suit your needs. It usually takes one day for beginners’ training and up to two weeks for an intensive program where you receive guidance on incorporating 3D printing into your curriculum.
  6. Launch campaign: The last step is to create that much needed buzz around your new 3D printing facilities. Designing an internal communications program should take you no more than a day. It is advisable to carry out reminder campaigns to keep 3D printing fresh in everyone’s minds.

Learn more about 3D Printing in Education

Introducing 3D Printing into the Classroom is a series of articles designed to help educators and IT administrators in education understand 3D printing, how 3D printing can enhance the learning experience and the considerations about the 3D printing ecosystem. Understanding the 3D printing process, how the solution fits into the classroom and how costs, access and usage can be managed are elements of a successful 3D Printing Program.
Part 3: How much does 3D printing cost?
Part 2: How do you know if you need a 3D printer for your classroom?
Part 1: What is 3D printing and what are the benefits for education?
 In Part 5, we will offer guidance on “Creating the Right Physical Environment for 3D Printing”


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