Irish Brothers’ Startup Makes 3D Printers Fed By Office Paper
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using inexpensive and abundant office paper as the input material.
Mcor says its process is also more environmentally friendly because the paper, water-based glue, and ink its machines use to make prototypes are recyclable; its process, unlike some 3D printers, doesn’t kick out toxic fumes or use support materials that need to be dissolved with chemicals; and there is no left-over powder that needs to be cleaned up.
The “green” features are important selling points to the education market, a core customer base for Mcor, Conor says.
However, Mcor’s 3D printers have their limitations and probably won’t cut it for many engineers and hobbyists who prefer to work with metal or plastic parts. The company’s main selling point—cheap, readily available prototyping material—might also be its primary drawback for some.
Conor admits his company’s printers couldn’t be used to fashion a carburetor or a crankshaft. But Mcor’s paper products are more resilient than one might think, he adds. “People think they’re like origami or papier-mache,” he says, but they’re more durable, “almost like a wood-like structure.” (The products are sometimes reinforced by dipping them in a coat of glue or a sealant.)
“There are applications where you can’t use our technology, but the majority, you can,” he says.
Nevertheless, Mcor and the broader 3D printing industry still have work to do before such machines achieve the type of mass adoption Conor envisions. The idea of having a 3D printer in most people’s homes, on standby if a broken vacuum cleaner needs a new part made, for example, is likely still years away.
Mcor has taken some steps to make its products available to more consumers, most notably by forming a partnership in 2012 with Staples in Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg (collectively known as Benelux). The program allowed consumers to upload product scans to Staples’ website. The scans would then be printed using the Mcor Iris and delivered to the customer either in a Staples store or via the mail. Staples has since sold its Netherlands-based printing division, but the 3D printing service is still available in the Benelux region through Staples spinoff myeasy3d.com and Mcor, Conor says. He would be interested in creating similar programs in other countries, perhaps the U.S., he adds.
Current 3D printing technology is, in general, overhyped—but the future promise isn’t, Conor says. For one thing, he thinks 3D printers will continue to become more advanced, delivering an increasing ability to print functional parts that can be used right away by the consumer, rather than being primarily used by the maker-set for early-stage prototypes.
Over the long haul, putting that design power in the hands of more people will be incredibly powerful, Conor says. “It’s like an industry looking for its killer app,” he says. “It’s going to democratize innovation. People are always throwing around that term. But it will allow people to fail faster, and to design faster.”