These three British High Street chains have entered the 3D market
You’ll read on this blog and others with a fair frequency that 3D printing is now ‘entering the mainstream’, I think it is now safe to say that 3D printing hasn’t just entered the mainstream but made itself really rather comfortable too as three massive retailers join Maplin and Staples to offer 3D printing on the Great British high street.
Starting with Curry’s and PC World, part of Europe’s largest electrical retail group Dixons Retail Plc, they are now stocking the 3D Systems’ Cube throughout the UK. Curry’s and PC World have the machines on sale for £1,195 and are also stocking a variety of different coloured PLA and ABS cartridges from £52.80.
Whereas Harvey Norman, a similar chain across the Irish Sea, have the MakerBot Replicator 2 in stock, Dixons Retail have gone down the ease-of-use route with the Cube. Being wireless, being pre-loaded with 25 optimised designs, being plug-and-play and having the filament cartridge enclosed all probably seemed slightly safer options to the retail chain, when it comes to supplying a new technology to the general public.
Dixons have been joined in the 3D printing water by Asda and John Lewis, who are both hoping to make a splash by offering slightly different 3D printing opportunities to the general public.
John Lewis Partnership, the third largest private company in the UK, recently announced that they would be stocking the 3D printing pen swissPen for £89.95. The pen, which was on display at the CREAT3D stand at TCT Show + Personalize 2013, is an entry level into 3D printing, helping you understand the basics. It is surprising that John Lewis, who are considered to be firmly upmarket, have gone with a product many consider to be a direct copy of WobbleWorks’ 3Doodler.
Then there’s Asda. The Walmart owned supermarket chain are now offering a 3D scanning and printing (printing will be done offsite) service in their York store. We believe that a division of UK-based 3D scanning experts Europac3D are operating the “mini-me” service (as we recognise an employee of that company from the photo coverage!); you can walk into the store and have yourself, your children or your pets (as one comment on the Asda story says “good luck with pets!”) scanned immediately getting your print a week later.
The results are achieved using an Artec Eva hand scanner and more than likely printing in ceramic on 3D Systems ProJet (formerly Z-Corp). According to Asda’s PR this is how the 3D printing process works: “The shape is recreated in 3D by spraying ceramic fluid in thin layers to build a solid object.” They've not quite got that right have they?
I surmise that Asda must be covering some of the costs of this service; compare Asda's £40 offering for the full body scan and the 8-inch full colour print (not forgetting the cleaning up process of the model before and after printing) to that of a very similar service by the same company at the 3D Print Show priced at £220. "That’s Asda Price for you" some might say.
Why would Asda cover the cost of this? £40 is not the going rate for this service by any stretch of the imagination so why would Asda spend this money? Is it because they see this as a technology that will shape the way we shop in the future and they'd like to get in on the ground floor? Probably and sadly not, it is a marketing opportunity for them to jump on a bandwagon and get huge Daily Mail articles in the meantime by frankly not actually doing anything other than offering out some store space to experts.
The problem with this current fad of scanning and printing miniature versions of yourself is that it is just that, a fad, akin to that of the boom in kiosks trading in the framed plaster-cast handprints of your children in the 90s. It is not useful and does not demonstrate the amazing capabilities of 3D printing and scanning; uses like scanning ancient priceless artefacts and printing them for researchers across the world to handle and examine, an application Europac are absolute experts in.
The British high street might be adopting the technology but I can’t help but feel like they’re adopting half-heartedly for column inches, like these ones I’m providing them with. What would be nice is to see is a service like that suggested by 3D Hubs’s Brian Garret “People will want good quality content that they can 3D print at the press of a button. What would it mean if Ikea were to publish 100 things you could print to go with their furniture?” or even the one suggested by Tesco, “What if we had a digital catalogue of spare parts for items that you’d bought? They could be printed on demand and ready for you by the time you’d finished your shopping."