As 3D printing gains traction in the public space there will be big players looking to capitalize on streamlining makerspaces by increasing their accessibility and overall appeal to the masses. We’ve made a few comments here about Kinko’s taking that plunge, but our predictions were a little off their mark, at least for now. The office-supplies giant Staples plans to make that first leap of introducing 3D printing into their stores, but don’t hold your breath America, because they’re running the Easy 3D pilot program in Belgium and The Netherlands starting in 2013.
Many Staples customers are architects, designers, and engineers that need paper for documents, and whatever else Staples sells. It will further enable those customers with Staples offering them affordable rapid-prototyping and proof-of-concept services. Logistically the architect saves time and money by getting office supplies and models in the same building, or by having them shipped, which is offered too. Staples’ execution is a little odd as the printer that will be deployed is the Mcor IRIS, which prints solid objects in paper, A4 and letter-sized to be precise. Since Staples already has access to cheap paper they can probably make this work, but while it is 3D printing, it’s not additive manufacturing like most 3D printing is; it’s a subtractive process, starting with a stack of paper and then removing what’s not part of the model. Since no toxic resins or dyes are used though, the waste is recyclable. As paper absorbs ink well the objects can also be in color, and not just single solid colors either; no, these objects are near photorealistic, something only a few of the most expensive printers can achieve. Something that this printer is not is expensive. One of the primary reasons for using the IRIS is its substantially lower cost of ownership compared to other printers.
President of the Staples’ European Printing Systems Division, Wouter Van Dijk, recently said in a press release, “Given our market leadership in commercial print, why would we ever stop at two dimensions?” That’s a good question. Another is, why didn’t you say that last year? I feel this Easy 3D pilot sets the stage for the competition to launch similar services in the US without need of testing internationally, but that’s just what I’d do. Maybe a competitor will come with some true additive manufacturing to distinguish itself from Staples. Either way, this should light a fire under the commercial print industry’s collective ass to get us more retail-oriented 3D printing.