Do you consider yourself the type of person who would like to design your own household gadgets? Or maybe you have ideas that you wish you could bring to life with the click of a mouse, as I do. 3D printing has begun to expand our creativity by allowing people to consider the ability to manufacture desired products in the comfort of their own home. Though the availability of 3D printers isn’t quite yet in the economic picture for the average consumer, Staples has taken the first step by introducing the technology as a retail service to its already established customer base.
Coined "Easy 3D," Staples has partnered with Mcor to bring 3D printing to the retail market for the first time. So, how does the service work? Much like Staples’s current business card service, users will first upload a 3D design (OBJ, STL, or VRML formats) to the Staples website. The product is then printed at a Staples location and either picked up or mailed to the customer. Simple as that.
A 3D-printed skull showing a stunning example of multicolor 3D resin printing. Quality at this scale will be available to anyone at their local Staples office supply store starting this year. (Source: Mcor Technologies)
The Mcor Iris printer implements a unique fabrication method based on laminated object manufacturing, which uses reams of paper that are blade-cut, selectively glued, and stacked together resulting in a product with a high-resolution layer thickness of 0.1mm. Unlike most 3D printers that use a single color polymer resin, the Mcor Iris can simultaneously add different colors to the end-product at a resolution of 5,760 x 1,440 x 508dpi. Though the printer’s use of paper is particularly fitting for Staples in terms of cost savings, some questions are raised for design consideration when using paper rather than plastic. Mcor reassures customers by stating that the glued-paper results in a wood-like hardness that can be drilled and screwed into -- but the evidence remains to be seen. Nonetheless, the wider availability of the service at a lower cost is sure to attract customers to the new concept.
This may sound familiar as Kickstarter announced that Form1 3D printer uses the same technique. The Form1 had a price low enough to make its way into most homes at around $2,600 to $3,300. Recently, 3D Systems, maker of "The Cube," has sued Formlabs for infringing on several of its patents. One in particular is central to how the Form1 operates. "We intend to enforce our patent rights," 3D Systems stated publicly. As the Form1 printer is sure to be tied up in court proceedings for an indeterminate amount of time, Staples sweeps in to save the day.
The Staples 3D printing service will be available in Belgium and The Netherlands in the first quarter of 2013; no timeframe for expansion into other countries just yet. What kinds of nerdy replicas or obscenely hilarious models can you picture Staples printing out with its first batch of customer orders? I’m sure our fellow Dutch and Belgian techies have plans underway.
For now, most of us will have to wait for Staples to make this service available worldwide. If all goes well, other major printing and retail distributors such as HP and Office Depot are sure to follow suit. Until then, it is time for those interested to start thinking up design ideas, or simply learning how to model. The availability of 3D printing is but another step in bringing our ideas to life more quickly and affordably.
A colleague of mine has to work with an expensive, but small, 3D printer. He hates having to deal with it. There is so many steps to run and maintenance procedures that he admitted to me saying, "I think about breaking the printer all the time. But I know I would be the one that has to fix it."
3D printing is not always rainbows and sunshine for manufacturers.
Having Stapes handle the job, by all means... please.
I expect this will actually be pretty simple to run. Certainly, less training would be needed than that of handing an FEA package to a drafter and expect them to be competent as a stress analysist in the same amount of time.
I'd expect operation would entail importing the customer's file, verify that it's usable and fits within the fabrication volume, and then yes, hit print.
This is a great idea. It puts the possibility of prototyping just down the street for companies that might not be able afford it otherwise. I wonder about the available tolerances and if the end products would be close enough to use for contour tracing for fixture design.
Thanks for catching that. I was comparing other printers with a similar resolution and quality to the Mcor. Resin printers like the Form1 from Formlabs came to mind.
The Mcor is an interesting option. I use this plastic material called Garolite in projects. It is a paper laminate. Great for anything that requires strength that is non conductive. Not great on machine tool life. The US military used Garolite in a lot of their gear, for the record. So, if the Mcor can create a similar material, I can see it used in a lot of applications.
Nice update. Ann pointed it out to me as I was asking in another forum if there was forthcoming coverage of the IRIS system. I have looked at their website and viewed the videos; there is some confusion for me still as some videos show a person tediously picking off unwanted bits revealing the 3D model; other videos have them saying the part comes out finished. Perhaps their technology is evolving fast. I'm confused too on the resin comments; perhaps that comes from the adhesive or pigment, but the base material is definitely standard paper.
A couple ideas for you for further research and blogs: consider applications that are enabled by these technologies. On their site, mcor shows a case study where they used 3D ultra-sound data to make models of babies so parents can get an even more realistic view than looking at the images on a screen. I mentioned to Ann that these models may be nearly perfect as the first step to make sand molds for metal casting; we were talking about another DN post on Ford's use of 3D printing and casting. I think the enablement line of thought is very powerful; the 3D technology is "cool" but it is what it opens up that is really exciting for design.
I though I would also say that FedEx Office is in a good position to support mass adoption since they could print models and ship them same day, offering a vertically integrated solution!
Cabe, according to Beth's earlier Design News article on Mcor http://www.designnews.com/author.asp?section_id=1394&doc_id=238107 their Matrix 300 3D printer uses paper, not resin. Your article here mentions the Mcor Iris printer printing paper. Is a different Mcor printer's output shown in the photo? The caption says resin.
Cabe, I also want to correct the materials...Mcor doesn't use resin. The material is standard office letter or A4 paper and the process involves paper, cutting with a Tungsten tip blade, water-based adhesive.
Thank you for the great article! Just a few corrections. Mcor's paper 3D printing technology is quite different from the old laminated object manufacturing (please see my blog post on the subject :http://www.mcortechnologies.com/paper-3d-printing-its-not-your-daddys-lom/). Also Formlabs technology is completely different than Mcor's in every aspect and is a hobbyist printer.
For industrial control applications, or even a simple assembly line, that machine can go almost 24/7 without a break. But what happens when the task is a little more complex? That’s where the “smart” machine would come in. The smart machine is one that has some simple (or complex in some cases) processing capability to be able to adapt to changing conditions. Such machines are suited for a host of applications, including automotive, aerospace, defense, medical, computers and electronics, telecommunications, consumer goods, and so on. This discussion will examine what’s possible with smart machines, and what tradeoffs need to be made to implement such a solution.