Remember a few years ago when tech writers were tripping over themselves to call 3D printing nothing more than a fad? Contrarianism for contrarianisms sake is nothing new, especially in the technology journalism world. Nearly every leap forward is often met with a chorus of naysayers dooming technology before it even leaves the starting gates. From the television to the internet, there has always been a healthy dose of skepticism based not on evidence or facts but rather a profound dislike based on personal preference.
Not that skepticism is bad or unhealthy of course, many terrible products have been uncovered by technology journalists who saw through some shoddy vaporware and called it out. And there are plenty of examples of 3D printing marketing not accurately representing what was really being sold. But the suggestion, even six years ago when the first MakerBot burst onto the scene, that there was no future for 3D printing was just an exercise in empty, uninformed opinion. While desktop 3D printing may have been new, industrial 3D printers were already in use throughout a wide range of industries. 3D printing wasn’t invented by MakerBot or the Reprap community, it was simply popularized and miniaturized.
With news coming out that one of Australia’s largest office supply store chains will begin offering in-store 3D printing services, hopefully the last nail will be beat into the notion that 3D printing is a fad. Officeworks will be the first large Australian chain store to offer these services, and this comes after they were the first retailer in the country to sell 3D printers in their brick and mortar locations. They join North American based companies like The UPS Stores, Staples and even Home Depot in offering in-store 3D printing, who treat the service with just as much seriousness and commitment as all of their other offered services. 3D printing isn’t a fad to these stores, it is a viable revenue stream that they are all beginning to heavily invest in.
Officeworks is set to open it’s very first 3D Experience Centre in their Russell Street, Melbourne location on June 15th. The 3D printing center will offer a full selection of 3D printing materials, colors and object sizes that can all be selected in store and professionally printed by a trained technician. Customers will simply need to bring in their 3D file on a memory stick and they can either have the completed print delivered to them, or they can pick it up in store.
The Officeworks 3D Printing center will also be installing a full-sized 3D scanning both that will use top of the line 3D scanning technology fitted with 160 individual cameras. Customers will be able to have a replica of themselves or any large object scanned and 3D printed. To start, most of the backend support for the new 3D printing services will be handled by an Australian 3D printing company called Keech 3D, however if the new services prove successful I’d imagine Officeworks would begin training their own staff the same way that The UPS Stores and Staples have done.
While the utopian goal of a 3D printer in every home is probably many years off, a greater access to 3D printing is only going to hasten the eventuality. I always thought that 3D printing was interesting and cool, but it wasn’t until I was able to 3D print something myself and watch it happen that I jumped on board. The same psychology behind stores putting computers, cameras and tablets on display for people to hold and use is at play here. Reading a story about 3D printing or seeing pictures of something that was printed is one thing, but the experience of seeing something that you created or downloaded from the internet made tangible is a completely different experience.
I’m hardly in a position to declare a debate over, and this being the internet and all it is bound to continue, but I think it is time to stop acting like 3D printing isn’t going to be a reality. It is time to start taking it seriously and help find it’s proper place in our society. What do you think about the future of 3D printing? Talk to us in the Officeworks is Introducing In-Store 3D Printing Services forum at 3DPB.com.