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NIST Special Publication 1176

Costs and Cost Effectiveness of
Additive Manufacturing
A Literature Review and Discussion
Douglas S. Thomas and Stanley W. Gilbert

This publication is available free of charge from:


NIST Special Publication 1176

Costs and Cost Effectiveness of
Additive Manufacturing
A Literature Review and Discussion
Douglas S. Thomas
Stanley W. Gilbert
Applied Economics Office
Engineering Laboratory

This publication is available free of charge from:
December 2014

U.S. Department of Commerce
Penny Pritzker, Secretary
National Institute of Standards and Technology
Willie May, Acting Under Secretary of Commerce for Standards and Technology and Acting Director


The use of additive manufacturing has increased significantly in previous years. Additive
manufacturing is used by multiple industry subsectors, including motor vehicles,
aerospace, machinery, electronics, and medical products. Currently, however, additive
manufactured products represent less than one percent of all manufactured products in the
U.S. As the costs of additive manufacturing systems decrease, this technology may
change the way that consumers interact with producers. Additive manufacturing
technology opens up new opportunities for the economy and society. It can facilitate the
customized production of strong light-weight products and it allows designs that were not
possible with previous manufacturing techniques. Various challenges, however, can
impede and slow the adoption of this technology. In many instances, the cost of
producing a product using additive manufacturing processes exceeds that of traditional
methods. This report examines literature on the costs of additive manufacturing and seeks
to identify those instances where additive manufacturing might be cost effective and also
identify potential means for reducing costs when using this technology. Current research
on additive manufacturing costs reveals that this technology is cost effective for
manufacturing small batches with continued centralized manufacturing; however, with
increased automation distributed production may become cost effective. Due to the
complexities of measuring additive manufacturing costs, current studies are limited in
their scope. Many of the current studies examine the production of single parts. Those
that examine assemblies tend not to examine supply chain effects such as inventory and
transportation costs along with decreased risk to supply disruption. Currently, research
also reveals that material costs constitute a major proportion of the cost of a product
produced using additive manufacturing. However, technologies can often be
complementary, where two technologies are adopted alongside each other and the
benefits are greater than if they were adopted individually. Increasing adoption of
additive manufacturing may lead to a reduction in raw material cost through economies
of scale. The reduced cost in raw material might then propagate further adoption of
additive manufacturing. There may also be economies of scale in raw material costs if
particular materials become more common rather than a plethora of different materials.
The additive manufacturing system is also a significant cost factor; however, this cost has
continually decreased. Between 2001 and 2011 the average price decreased 51 % after
adjusting for inflation.

Keywords: Additive manufacturing; manufacturing; 3D printing; supply chain;
technology diffusion



This study was conducted by the Applied Economics Office in the Engineering
Laboratory at the National Institute of Standards and Technology. The study provides
aggregate manufacturing industry data and industry subsector data to develop a
quantitative depiction of the U.S. additive manufacturing industry.

Certain trade names and company products are mentioned in the text in order to adequately specify the
technical procedures and equipment used. In no case does such identification imply recommendation or
endorsement by the National Institute of Standards and Technology, nor does it imply that the products are
necessarily the best available for the purpose.

Cover Photographs Credits
Microsoft Clip Art Gallery Images used in compliance with Microsoft Corporation’s non-commercial use



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