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Jeff Rowe
Jeff Rowe
Jeffrey Rowe has more than 40 years of experience in all aspects of industrial design, mechanical engineering, and manufacturing. On the publishing side, he has written well over 1,000 articles for CAD, CAM, CAE, and other technical publications, as well as consulting in many capacities in the … More »

3D Printing Comes To Big Box Stores

August 27th, 2015 by Jeff Rowe

It’s obviously no secret that 3D printing continues its march on dominating the world of 3D physical realization. In the past year I’ve personally seen 3D printers at Office Depot, UPS, FedEx, and Staples where you can bring in an STL file on a USB drive and, theoretically, come back in a few minutes or hours with a 3D product of your creation.

From what I’ve seen, I haven’t exactly been overly impressed with the results. Between under-trained store staffs, limited choices of processes and materials, and just plain bad designs, the end product and process still leave a lot to be desired. In other words, it’s a hit or miss proposition, and probably more of the latter.

Honestly, if you’re serious about the result, take your design to a 3D printing service bureau with more process and material options, not to mention a professional, experienced staff who understands those important issues, but good design practices, as well.

Sam’s Club Brings 3D Printing to Moline, Illinois

If that’s not an option for you, there is always the 3D purchase printer route. Of course, you have been able to buy any number of 3D printers directly from vendors online, but it was only a matter of time until big box retailers also got into the act. For example, Home Depot has been offering 3D printers for some time; and more recently, Sam’s Club got into the act by offering 3D printers for sale at several different quality levels from different vendors.

Home Depot Selling 3D Printers: Are They Trying To Put Themselves Out of Business?

I tried contacting both Home Depot and Sam’s Club headquarters looking for comments on sales of 3D printers in their stores, but got shrugged shoulders or “no comment” from both organizations. That in itself is telling.

However, as I’ve maintained for a long time, and let’s get real for a moment; realistically, how many times will most buyers actually use the thing? It’s not exactly a universally needed tool as, say, a circular saw or drill. These machines are fickle with regard to part design, material selection, and operation. They are not exactly the type of thing you use every year or two.

I’ve also maintained, why buy when you can rent?

The 3D printing process and the notion of a 3D printer in every home has received a lot of attention the past few years, and sales of relatively low cost 3D printers have continued to skyrocket.

But why, for a process and capability that was supposed to be ubiquitous and necessary for every home? The machines may be relatively inexpensive, but how many parts are you truly going to want to ultimately design and produce? Then there are material, size/volume, and physical characteristic, and quality limitations. The machines can also be fickle to set up and maintain. I suspect that after an initial period of excitement and promise, a lot of early-purchase 3D printers are now sitting idle and collecting dust.

It brings to mind people who have the joy and burden of owning multiple homes. A second home may be nice, but that ends up being the only place you end up going. Most acquaintances that I have known dealing with this issue inevitably ask themselves, “Why own when you can rent.” I’m starting to see this same mindset enter into the psyches of early purchasers of 3D printers.

I totally agree with this renting sentiment, but would recommend for many reasons, “rent” 3D printing capabilities from a reputable organization, a professional service bureau. Sure, it’s going to be more expensive dealing with a service provider, but like many other things, you get what you pay for, and this notion holds true for 3D printing.

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