It’s sometimes easy to forget that additive manufacturing (AM) isn’t really a brand new technology. 3D printers toiled away in labs and back rooms for years cranking out prototypes and the occasional custom part without receiving much in the way of attention. Only recently, with the rollout of home AM systems, has the technology entered the general consumer’s consciousness.
One expression of increased awareness is the push to move 3D printers from the back of the shop to the front. Staples has been at the forefront of this movement, adding AM systems to store shelves, and offering AM printing services in Europe since last year. Now a new partnership with 3D Systems (3DS) will bring AM services to Staples in the US.
“3D printing offers enormous potential for small businesses, and by using Staples, they can print with the technology without having to invest in it,” said Damien Leigh, senior VP of business services for Staples, Inc. “The test with 3D Systems will help us learn about our customers’ needs for a local 3D printing service, and how Staples can help them make more happen for their business through 3D printing.”
Each Staples store that participates in the program will open what the company is calling a “3D printing experience center” where customers can interact with AM first hand. This includes watching an AM system at work and interacting with an expert from 3DS to explain the technology. Practical demonstrations will take the form of 3D printed figurines with the features of shoppers (supplied by smartphones) or 3D printed cellphone cases.
The experience center will also act as a service bureau, printing up 3D designs brought in by customers. I wouldn’t expect Staples to replace Materialise or RedEye just yet, however, as I doubt each store will keep more than a single material extrusion printer (probably the Cube) on hand for printing duties. Still, the opportunities offered by access to the technology, including giving people a good look at 3D printing in action, raises awareness of both what AM can accomplish and should dispel some of the more unreasonable expectations.
For now, the “experience” is limited to stores in New York and Los Angeles. If nothing else, the deal with 3DS is bringing more 3D printers to Staples shelves, which is bound inspire some curiousity.
Below you’ll find a video about the in-store demonstrations.