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OM in the News: 3-D Printing at Staples Office Supply

September 6, 2013
Printing of the head, from the movie "Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia"

Printing of the head, from the movie “Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia”

The exciting topic of 3-D printing (see Chapter 5) continues to evolve, now with a new process called “Selective Deposition Lamination” (SDL). Each 3-D printer builds up objects, layer by layer, but what the layers are made of varies from one to another. Some extrude filaments of molten plastic. Some spray special “inks,” such as liquid polymers that solidify when exposed to ultraviolet light. Some use powdered plastic or powdered metal that is then fixed in place with a laser or an electron beam.  For all of these, the process can be expensive, as manufacturers put a high markup on their printing materials, just as the producers of 2-D printers do on their ink. Now, reports The Economist (Aug. 10, 2013) there is yet another way.  Office supply company Staples is introducing machine prints that are made of a substance that Staples has in abundance: sheets of paper–at 5% of the cost of the materials for other 3-D systems.

In the case of SDL, the process starts by the machine applying drops of adhesive to a sheet of paper. Then the machine slides a second sheet of paper on top of the first and presses them together to bond them. The process continues, layer by layer, until the object is complete. It is then removed from the machine, the supporting material is peeled away, and the finished item, which has a consistency similar to wood, is revealed. Adding color involves old-fashioned 2-D printing. Each sheet, before it is put in the stack, is printed top and bottom with appropriate ink in a pattern that follows the edge of the item at the level this sheet of paper will occupy.

Staples hopes people will use their imaginations and print all sorts of other things as the firm expands the service throughout its chain. One day, as more office documents migrate to cyberspace, 3D printing with paper may even overtake the 2D sort. (For a lengthy overall look at 3-D printers, see The Economist –Sept. 7, 2013).

Discussion questions:

1. Why are 3-D printers an important OM tool?

2. How does this printing differ from earlier technologies?

2 Comments leave one →
  1. September 8, 2013 6:06 pm

    Student exercise:

    I would ask students to give examples of items they would like to have 3D printed and items they have no desire to be 3D printed, or even do not want 3D printed. Then I would extend the discussion by asking students to elaborate on their choices.

  2. September 8, 2013 9:55 pm

    Thanks, Steve. I do believe that 3-D printers may be the revolution that excites the coming generation of students. The opportunities are still unknown, but could be almost endless.

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