Staples In-Store 3D Printing: The Path To Mainstream

The MCOR Iris 3D printer is set to be adopted by Staples as part of its in-store 3D printing services, set to roll out early 2013. (Image courtesy of MCOR)

The MCOR Iris 3D printer is set to be adopted by Staples as part of its in-store 3D printing services, set to roll out early 2013. (Image courtesy of MCOR)

It started with garage hobby projects and high-minded academic experiments, but with big companies like Staples announcing plans to offer 3D printing services on-demand, the futuristic fabrication machines are pushing their way into the mainstream.

Staples announced last week it is planning to outfit a number of its European stores with commercial-class 3D printers, allowing customers to affordably order fabrication of objects and products that would normally have to be assembled and shipped to them.

From Cnet:

“Customized parts, prototypes, art objects, architectural models, medical models and 3D maps are items customers need today,” Wouter Van Dijk, president of the Staples Printing Systems Division in Europe, said in [a] release.

Users would upload product designs online to be printed in-store and picked up, much like Staples currently does with business cards.

Staples says that after debuting in the northern European countries, the service will be “rolled out quickly to other countries.”

Stores in the Netherlands and Belgium would be the first to receive the machines in early 2013.  No word on pricing, but Staples promises using the 3D printers will be low-cost.

Researchers and enthusiasts have been working on 3D printing for years now, all with the goal of creating a machine that can in turn create just about anything a user wants.  While a 2D printer uses ink and paper to make copies of documents, a 3D printer uses raw materials like plastic, metals, and ceramics to mould and shape a product according to a design supplied by an engineer.

Early 3D printers could only make objects like toys, models, or simple tools, but they have since advanced to make fairly complex and detailed products like replacement parts for appliances, or even most recently, simple electronic components.

Enthusiasts have been touting 3D printing as the ultimate technology to disrupt modern consumer culture, as projects like Fab@Home would aim to put desktop-sized 3D printers in people’s homes, allowing them to simply fabricate the products they want rather than purchasing them from stores.

For now, desktop 3D printers are still fairly expensive, with cheaper models running $2000 to $3000, and the designs are still somewhat limited, so the retail revolution may yet be a ways off.  More practical uses for the 3D printers could include fast creation of prototypes for would-be inventors.

Traditional corporations are getting into the mix as well, though, as with Staples’s announcement, as well as a move from HP to start selling 3D printers made by Stratasys.

On the opposite side of the the size spectrum, researchers have also developed an application of 3D printing methods for constructing whole buildings.  Prof. Behrokh Khoshnevis with the Viterbi engineering school at USC developed a process called contour crafting, which is designed to fabricate walls and structures complete with rebar and plumbing inserted into concrete.  Some models of the process are even designed to construct an entire building in a single run, with possible applications for space exploration.

Whatever role 3D printing plays in the future, it will certainly be a big part of public consciousness.

You can reach Staff Reporter Shea Huffman here or follow him on Twitter.

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Three Affordable 3D Printers Available Right Now

3D printing or rapid prototyping has always been an expensive endeavor, it was only 7 years ago when my friend purchased an Objet 3D printer for 240,000 dollars. The price of a quarter of million dollars was enough to turn most companies off from ever dreaming of owning one. But for the lucky few who could afford one had the freedom of creating products from a simple sketch to an actual product in a matter of minutes.

Working for a young jewelry company at that time, a 3D printer would have saved us days of waiting for samples to be finished. As hard as I wanted to convince my boss a rapid prototyping machine would have never worked for us. There a flaw that stopped us from ever owning one which the texture of the printed objects, they often had rough textures in certain areas completely making 3D printed objects unusable as a master prototype.

But recently in the past few years 3D printers started becoming really good to the point that even solved the texture problem. In fact along with the increase in accuracy price also went to levels making it almost affordable for home use. New companies and hobbyist have push the boundaries of 3D printing making them cheaper and even simple enough for anyone to use.

Bellow are 3 of my favorite 3D printers that could one day be in your home:

The RapMan 3D Printer

The Rapman 3D Printer was an instant hit the moment it came out of the market. Its simple design and proven reliability makes it a great tool for students or small graphic design companies. The Rapman itself is portable and weights bellow 40 pounds. I only had a few minutes to try out the Rapman but that was enough for me to say that works like a charm. We printed out a solid chess piece and it took around 15 minutes to complete the print.

PrintrBot Jr

printrbot kickstarter

PrintrBot came out with the cheapest workable 3D printer that cost around $399 making it the most affordable 3D printer in the world. Although the Printrbot is meant for kids or for any one wanting to learn about 3D printing. According to the creator there are still some issues they need fix to improve the performance of the Printrbot Jr. The printer is available as a Kickstarter project and you can order one for the low price promised by the developers.

TurboCAD Touch 3D Printer

turbocad touch 3dprinter

The TurboCAD is a full 3D printing kit that comes with TurboCAD. Good software it an integral part of 3D printing. TurboCAD 19 which is packaged with their Touch 3D printer makes it one of the few 3D printers that is complete out of the box. TurboCAD 19 itself is a mature software familiar to most industrial designers.

The three 3D printers I listed above are just a few of the products pioneered by young companies pushing the boundaries of exciting world of 3D printing. A lot of people tend to look at these companies as like Apple or Amiga pushing technology and making it available to world.

About the Writer:
This article was written by Jessie Johns a member of ByHand.Me. Jessie has been creating wooden crafts for over a decade and is a contributes to Santa Monica Woodmakers Annual for over a decade. Jessie is know experimenting  with Resin and the use of 3D printing to create home made works of art made out of PLA Plastics which is a safe and biodegradable.

Five Things I Saw at Contactcon

Host Doug Rushkoff on the stage at Contactcon (via Flick user Steven Brewer)

On October 20 I had the luck to join a group of some of the brightest and most creative people from every part of the tech spectrum at Contactcon. Held at the beautiful Angel Orensaz Foundation Center (see above), the conference was a flurry of energy and excitement, never lingering on one point of focus too long. As befits the format, below are five events or situations that caught my attention at Contactcon:

  1. Unendorsed sharing. Wifi was provided in the center by KeyWifi, which had set up eight or so networks and handed out pieces of paper with passwords to one of the hotspots. They hoped to evenly distribute them among participants to keep all the networks running. When I went to the table to get my password, it was clear that wasn’t working: “Just please don’t tell anyone the passcode!” a poor Key employee asked me. People were giving out their codes and overloading the access points. I guess you couldn’t stop them from sharing with those in need.
  2. Unattempted procedures. The structure of the conference — though I’m sure a lot of participants would object to that word — was based on a series of short provacations and then a series of project meetings established on the spot. I’m always skeptical that people come to events like Contactcon ready to work and think outside their comfort zone, but the attendees really were. The board quickly filled with great ideas, from an alternative currency for Occupy Wall Street to new ways to dodge internet censorship. People grouped with whatever proposal they liked and got started. Judging from the list-serv I’m on, they’re very much still at work.
  3. Unparalled hosting. In addition to being one of the most original minds working on questions of technology and society, as well as one of the most radical thinkers to crack the mainstream media, Doug Rushkoff is incredibly good at keeping people on track. With an open format and people suggesting different workshops, Rushkoff kept things moving by making sure anything too vague or self-serving got passed by, with a good sense of what the group did or did not support. Plus, you could hear the bile dripping from his voice when he had to announce the Pepsi sponsorship. The man is a dynamo.
  4. Unexpected radicals. Occupy Everything and Occupy Wall Street in particular had a big impact on participants’ thinking. I was surprised to see a group project on getting people to pledge collectively not to pay their student debts attract wide support at the conference level. Some of the participants who would have been in a small tech bubble a couple years ago are now actively looking to use their talents and ideas to support global social movements. There was a big focus on technologies that used international networks to overcome parochial restrctions to access. And a few of these tech-minded folks have better political imaginations than I’ve seen in policy circles. Contactcon showed me that their are not just people, but communities out there waiting to meet each other.
  5. Unlikely bedfellows. I’ve heard Contactcon described as a meeting of the top pro-human technologists, and that turned about to be the case. A campaign based around food justice was one of the most popular projects at the conference, and all the participants anchored their thoughts and projects in very human problems. That is, except for the Makerbot printing out plastic shells for homeless hermit crabs. Apparently people like collecting shells they use as housings, and now crab populations are in need of some man-made assistance. 3D printing isn’t exactly made for problems like this one, but it could have been. And maybe the next generation of tech solutions will be.