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September 18, 2013

3D Printers Arrive in US Stores

by Elizabeth Lee

Imagine having an idea, sketching it on paper, bringing it to a store and seeing that drawing turned into a physical object in a matter of hours.  This is now possible for the average consumer with the help of 3D printers. These machines were once only used by universities and big corporations, but now, stores with 3D printing services are popping up around the United States for anyone who wants to see an idea become reality. 

Bryan Jaycox and his wife love to play with high-tech toys. They opened The Build Shop LLC in Los Angeles two years ago.  It's filled with tools like a laser cutter, an industrial sewing machine and various 3D printers. They offer 3D printing classes and services for anyone who is interested.

“I think 3D printing is going to be huge," said Jaycox. "It’s going to make a huge impact on society as a whole.”

One of the students in his class is KiChong Tran. He plans to open a 3D print shop in Cambodia.

“I envision a place where people can come in with ideas, a drawing -- just anything on a napkin -- and we convert that drawing into a file and 3D print it,” he said.

3D printing services are popping up for consumers all across the United States. The UPS Store, a nationwide retailer that provides services that include shipping and copying, recently installed 3D printers in three of its franchises.  Burke Jones owns one in San Diego.

“The demand has been amazing," he said. "It’s been much more than I would have imagined.”

The UPS Store plans to add 3D printers in three additional stores.  Company executive Mark Denney said customers come from diverse backgrounds.

“Anybody that has a startup any inventors, engineers that have a need to produce something like this,” Denney explained.

For $11, Jonathan Netter used the 3D printer to produce two small plastic parts that would make up an artificial knuckle.  Netter works for a medical device company that is testing finger prosthetics.  He said the same-day or next-day service will speed up the testing phase and get the prosthetic to patients faster.

"I'd say it would save us about a year of testing time," he said.

And -- as with any technology -- experts expect the printing speed and price to improve.  Currently Bryan Jaycox charges $15 an hour to print an object, plus a fee depending on the size of the object and up to $50 an hour for design and labor services. 

At The UPS Store, the cost of the object depends on the amount of materials used.  It charges up to $95 an hour to design the object with software that creates a digital file which allows the printer to produce it.

Jaycox predicts that in five years, 3D printing technology could become more consumer friendly.  But KiChong Tran said even current technology can make a difference in a developing country such as Cambodia.

“With 3D printing you can give them tools, you put it in their hands so they are responsible more for their own development and they learn skills beyond just learning English and becoming a tour guide or something like that or working at a bank you can actually create things that give value to the world,” Tran said.

And he said it’s not just Cambodia.  Anywhere in the world where there is a 3D printer, it can turn a good idea -- into reality.