By Barry Levine / Top Tech News. Updated November 30, 2012.
The third dimension is coming to consumers and businesses. Staples announced this week that it will soon roll out an in-store 3D printing service.
The service will be offered in collaboration with Ireland-based Mcor Technologies Ltd., will be called Staples Easy 3D, and will initially be offered at Staples locations in the Netherlands and Belgium, starting early next year. A rollout to other countries is expected to follow. The companies did not specify pricing, other than to say it would be low-cost.
The service will allow customers to print colored, photo-realistic 3D printed products by uploading electronic files to the Staples Office Center. The 3D output can be picked up at a nearby Staples store, or shipped to a customer's address. Customers are expected to create 3D customized parts, prototypes, art objects, architectural models, medical models, tools, machine components, robot parts, or 3D maps, among other purposes.
Why 'Stop at Two Dimensions'?
The 3D models will use the Mcor IRIS printer, which the companies said had the highest color capability of any 3D printer in the industry and the lowest operating cost of any commercial class 3D printer. Mcor also said its 3D printers are the only ones to use ordinary business letter paper as the build material.
"Given our market leadership in commercial print," Wouter Van Dijk, president of the Staples Printing Systems Division in Europe, asked in a statement, "why would we ever stop at two dimensions?"
While many homes and businesses have high-quality 2D printing capabilities, the companies said there was no sign that 3D printing was moving into the home, and Staples is looking to fill that need.
However, there are indications that 3D printing technology is becoming more mainstream. In September, for instance, the Brooklyn, New York-based MakerBot released two new 3D personal printers and opened a retail store in downtown Manhattan. The store features ongoing demonstrations, as well as a variety of products made from the company's 3D printers, including a Marble Run contraption.
The company described its Replicator 2 Desktop 3D Printer as its "easiest, fastest, and most affordable tool yet for making professional-quality models." It features 100-micron layer resolution, which MakerBot said can create professional-looking models and true-to-life replicas up to 410 cubic inches in volume.
The Replicator 2 is designed for use with the bioplastic PLA, which is popular as a build material because of its strength and its ability to make large models without cracking or warping. The company said that model 2, priced at $2,199, has a slicing engine that is up to 20 times faster than previous models, and that it can build multiple objects at once.
MakerBot said there are more than 13,000 of its 3D printers in use by engineers, designers, researchers, and "people who just like to make things," and it said it currently has a 16 percent market share of all 3D printers, including industrial as well as personal ones.