Additive Manufacturing Strategies

Staples: Excited About the 3D Printing Space, Services Still Developing

ST Medical Devices

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staplesIt’s obvious that there’s big money to be made in 3D printing if you play your cards right. Overall, the ‘third revolution’ is about greater opportunities for innovation, but of course, it’s also about the bottom line. For numerous industries, the opportunity is now there for making parts that simply weren’t possible previously, as well as making existing parts faster, with higher quality–and very importantly–more affordably.

Those actually making software, hardware, and materials for 3D printing are also already heavily invested within the industry, which is thriving and becoming more and more competitive each day, offering a wide range of options for consumers–and bringing prices down for them, offering greater accessibility. But how are conventional servicers and suppliers in our retail mainstream rolling with these very progressive and significant changes? We must wonder if it’s just a matter of time before all that space dedicated to photo labs and copying services morphs into 3D printing facilities too.

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Staples’ Karl Sice

With 3D printers in many schools and neighborhood libraries already, certainly consumers will soon expect to have them at their disposal everywhere for projects. That may be a little longer coming to conventional retailers than you would expect, however. According to Karl Sice of Staples Technology Systems, they have been in the know regarding 3D printing for some time now, along with working with a variety of clients using the technology. As the company’s managing director for Australia, he uses two words we hear a lot when corporate ideas are still just in development: conceptual and limited.

Sice is knowledgeable on the subject, obviously, and he understands the obstacles, seeing that currently there are two which are definitely holding 3D printing back from being integrated into services.

“Cost is one but the other issue is that most printers will only perform a single type of 3D outcome,” Sice explained to ARN. “Normal laser or inkjet printers allow you to do a number of different applications, that’s not possible today with 3D. It’s designed for a single use and that is quite limiting.”

“As vendors make the move to commoditize the market, I think it will take off in its own right. Everybody I have spoken to who is across this technology, partner or customer, is excited for it and realizes its potential. The ball is now back in the vendor’s court to make it realistic and multi-purpose so that people can take advantage of it properly.”

We’ve reported extensively on HP regarding their recent split into two separate entities, as well as their entry into the 3D printing market. Obviously, many of the other vendors involved in the manufacturing and distribution of similar services and products are watching their model closely, wondering whether their recent and massive reorganization portends a whole new world of opportunity–or a nightmarish crash and burn.

Having just returning from an HP Inc. conference, Sice shared a bit about his discussions with HP’s president imaging printing and solutions, Enrique Lores. 3D printing would have been an obvious and very relevant topic to discuss, and they did have conversations about the future of the technology. Looking at what a great effect 3D printing is having on healthcare and education, they discussed how they can go to market as partners, as well as gaining success with new HP technologies.

staples-3d-printingSice sees the obvious potential for the technology in the healthcare sector, as well as education, where its merits are already becoming very evident.

“In healthcare there is a lot of pressure on the private aged care market not just in the for-profit organizations, but also in the organizations trying to provide solutions more quickly and deliver healthcare outcomes much more effectively,” says Sice. “Even in its current form, 3D printing allows you to take solutions to the healthcare market which would be possible without the technology but would take much longer to deploy.”

“There is a really good example in education, I sat down with a university and the way they were looking at 3D printing was for the design school. 3D printing would allow them to eliminate some of the plastic, clay and paper that they currently use to do prototype designs and also mainstream designs for the market. They can move to a situation where they can do in minutes what would have previously taken weeks.”

Explaining that it is a ‘massive shift,’ moving to 3D printing and away from a number of other processes, Sice points out that that the benefits to the bottom line are significant–which is exactly the same understanding that many other large companies who are using the technology in their day-to-day manufacturing processes are already benefiting from.

“For Staples,” he said, “the 3D print space is exciting because it gives us a chance to grow the business much more quickly than would ordinarily be possible. The growth in that market is only just beginning.”

Like many other companies on the verge of change, Staples is obviously keeping a close eye on how instituting 3D printing can affect them. As titans like HP take the plunge, others will follow as they are able to note successes, mistakes, and the inevitable evolution and integration of 3D printing virtually everywhere. Discuss this story in the Staples 3D Printing forum thread on 3DPB.com.

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