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.
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.
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