'3D Printing' remains a buzzword within today's industry and continues to grow as a segment that promises to revolutionise the way that we do work and create/prototype new designs.
Multinational firm, Staples, has just announced its intentions to take the technology one step further and offer an in-store 3D printing service, initially trialling in the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg from January 2013, with a full commercial launch to take place later-on in the year.
Here at HEXUS, we've provided coverage of a range of 3D printing technologies, with the most popular currently based around the melting of plastic or curing of resin, however Staples, no doubt down to its vast supply of the material, has opted for Mcor's IRIS printers, which use standard A4 paper as their building material.
The technology functions by stacking sheets of paper, with model area held together by an adhesive. The use of paper allows for full-colour prints, with the kind of 2D resolution you've come to expect from a modern inkjet, whilst resolution in the z-axis is limited by the thickness and pattern of the paper (5,760 x 1,440 x 508 dpi). Actual mechanical accuracy (again limit by paper thickness) is an impressive 12 x 12 x 100 micrometers. As paper is stacked, structural strength begins to represent that of cardboard and, at high thickness, wood.
Undeniably, this technology can achieve incredible accuracy, though structural strength various widely depending on the application and paper naturally features some undesirable properties. If you don't have an efficient means for recycling paper, a significant amount of material can be wasted, especially for small prints; the printers themselves aren't altogether so cheap either, with the current IRIS model retailing for around £32,000.
Ignoring all downsides, the new service is still likely to have mass appeal with its many benefits and, this writer for one looks forward to giving Staple's brave new service a shot when it's launched here, in the UK.