STAPLES – Introduces 3D Printing Service in Europe

STAPLES, the office superstore, has been doing some serious shape-shifting in response to the global economic chaos. It recently laid off hundreds of workers in Europe, and closed under performing stores in the U.S.. STAPLES is also leaning out to remain competitive the inevitable Office Depot + Office Depot merger.

It would seem STAPLES is ripping a page from the KINKOS/FEDEX playbook, and focusing on technology and mobile communications. Yesterday, STAPLES announced it will introduce 3D Printing services in stores in Europe. Presumably if all goes well there, the U.S. stores will follow.

Fig 1 – MCOR IRIS color 3D Printer that will be placed in-store at STAPLES.

Unexpectedly perhaps, STAPLES 3D printers are going to be a bit more PRINTER than what we usually think of (i.e. Makerbots, Cubes, etc.).  The Mcor IRIS printer actually uses sheets of paper instead of the more expensive and temperamental ABS plastics spools. The Iris can also handle color much more easily.

The Iris works by cutting out 2D slices from letter-sized paper and gluing them together to build the model, making it perfect value-add for a place like STAPLES. Lord knows they have stacks of paper, and the Iris has some pretty good color ink technology. This means STAPLES can offer colored parts that won’t disintegrate on touch.

Staples has been wrestling with the decline in paper use of late, especially in recession weary Europe. Its first quarter earnings fell 5.6 percent this year, largely due to declines in European business.  European governments have cut back sharply on paper and office supplies, which are… well, the staples of STAPLES business.

Staples has annual sales of $25 Billion U.S. annually. About 44 percent of total company sales are derived from core office supplies, a Staples spokesman said, and roughly 10 percent of sales is in paper, said Joseph Feldman, an analyst with Telsey Advisory Group in New York.

I can’t help wonder if we’re not seeing a VHS vs. BETAMAX shakeout here? It seems unlikely, but Sony’s technologically superior video tape format lost out to VHS because one industry, pornography, chose the lower fidelity and less expensive format.

Reportedly, the cost of Iris paper-based 3D models is about 5% of other machines that use plastic feedstock. The downside of these paper printers is that they’re relatively slow and complex models may required next day pickup. Not all bad for building in-store traffic.

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