Many people including myself have been predicting some mainstream print center would adopt 3D printing and bring it locally to millions of consumers. Quite frankly I thought it would be FedEx Kinkos first, but it looks like Staples beat them in announcing their intensions for 3D printing.
Staples Fires Warning Flare To 3D Printing Market - Seeking Alpha tinyurl.com/d7hzdz7
I have been talking about this for the past two years including at Autodesk University as it really is a no brainer when you consider the 3D printing and possibilities for consumers without a 3D printer in their home and need a part immediately.
It made perfect sense to me after I had to reverse engineer a plastic part for my clothes dryer and even discussed this on NPR last Spring “New Projects Help 3-D Printing Materialize on NPR.” I thought for small non-critical components it would be nice to have manufacturers provide a STL source file for free or a small charge and save warehouse space, transportation costs, energy, and satisfy customers with an immediate solution instead of waiting for a shipment. I know the lawyers would certainly want a customer agreement that the part produced from the STL was not under their control or liability, and that would be perfectly fine.
If the manufacturers don't embrace this and get in front and lead, people will surely resort to doing it themselves then posting source files online for others on a site like thingiverse.com. If they force the consumer to do it themselves, they will lose all control and the opportunity to be innovative in part supply and personalization of their products as well as make some very happy customers.
Imagine you need a small replacement part for your vacuum or want a custom accessory for your vacuum like a spoiler for your fast Roomba vacuum, a new custom mount for your GoPro camera, or perhaps a personalized smartphone case. Now imagine you simply go to the manufacture and select an option to 3D print the part and have the option to go pick up the 3D part from a local place like Staples 1.8 miles away in x hours for x$ that very same day.
That would, and Will be awesome someday.