Staples Announces In-Store 3D Printing Service

Pretty soon you’ll be able to print your 3-D projects at the local Staples.

A new service called “Staples Easy 3D” will allow customers to upload their designs to Staples’ website, then pick up the printed objects at their local office supply megastore, or have them shipped to their home or business — not unlike the photo- and document-printing service the company already offers.

The project was announced today at Euromold 2012 by 3-D printer manufacturer Mcor Technologies, who is partnering with Staples to provide its new Iris printers for the service.

The Iris printers employ an innovative method to generate objects, using reams of paper that are cut and printed while being stacked and glued together. This technique allows for a high-resolution layer thickness of 100 microns, similar to that of the MakerBot Replicator 2, but not quite as fine as the 25-micron capability of the Form 1.

The new printers also incorporate the ability to add photorealistic coloring — something that more common plastic printers can’t yet achieve. But while the glued paper is said to have a wood-like hardness, the arrangement of the layered paper grain will require special consideration for certain design layouts (this can affect other types of 3-D printers as well).

And while the company says it is able to be drilled, tapped or screwed, its material properties are unknown compared to traditional materials like real wood or steel.

Still, the move by an established corporation to offer 3-D printing further legitimizes the adoption of the rapidly growing field by the mass market. Similar services currently exist, being offered by companies like Shapeways and Sculpteo, but this is the first to be made available from a chain retailer.

Staples Easy 3D will launch in the Netherlands and Belgium in the first quarter of 2013, and will be rolled out to other countries shortly afterword. No word yet on pricing or when it will reach the United States.


3D Printers… IN SPAAAACE!!!

3D Printers are everywhere these days.  And they’re not just for fabricating quick-and-dirty sample parts for your next design review.  Giant cement printers are building your homes. Tiny bio-printers are growing replacement organs in a lab.  And now, humanity’s next stepping-stone to the stars could be a 3D-printed space station.  A new company, Made in Space, is developing orbiting 3D printers which would use a generic ‘feedstock’ as its printing material, which would then be used to fabricate parts, and assembled into habitable space stations, or even Lunar colonies.  This feedstock – or ‘gray goo’ as Made in Space co-founder Jason Dunn calls it – could be easily launched from Earth, or converted from the nearly 1,900 tons of space junk floating uselessly in low-Earth orbit.  Additionally, broken parts could be fed back into the printer and re-manufactured with the same material, instead of being shipped back to earth, and waiting for a replacement.

“It just makes more logical and economical sense to print parts for spacecraft and space stations in space,” says the company’s founder. “If parts do not need to withstand the G-forces of being launched, their mass can be reduced by 30 percent.”  And with payload launch costs averaging $12,000 per pound, a 30% reduction would be significant.

The printers would be very versatile, able to use may different types of feedstock based on the item to be fabricated.  In orbit, plastic, metal, and rubber would be used most often to manufacture parts for a space station or ship, layer by excruciatingly thin layer.  On a planetary colony, however, the printer could use Martian soil or Lunar regolith, combined with a light superglue-like binder, to construct entire structures from the dust. 

Made in Space was conceived in the summer of 2009, during the annual Singularity University program at the NASA Ames Research Center.  At this point, Made in Space is still in its infancy. The company has already successfully printed some space-ready parts, but it has yet to determine how the printers will perform in zero gravity.  The first test will be to print small parts during short, 20-minute suborbital flights, aboard private commercial space vehicles.  Assuming the printers perform well, the next step could be a large-scale trial aboard the International Space Station.