Could 3D printing help the Postal Service fabricate a brighter future?

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Could 3D printing help the Postal Service fabricate a brighter future?

What: A report from the U.S. Postal Service's Research Analysis Risk Center on "3D Printing and the Postal Service," which updates the July 2014 USPS report, "If It Prints, It Ships."

Why: Because 3D printing can be done at a local level, it promises to reshape existing supply chains and bolster the importance of the Postal Service’s nationwide network and delivery capabilities. The report highlights recent developments and offers suggestions for how USPS might leverage the emerging 3D printing marketplace.

Findings: 3D printing technology is improving fast, and other companies are seeing its potential. Continuous liquid interface production, for example -- which is just one of the new technologies available -- uses ultraviolet light to harden a pool of liquid resin, and can print objects up to 100 times more quickly than previous 3D printing technologies.

The report's authors note that the United Parcel Service and shipping businesses in France, the U.K., Switzerland and Singapore have all began experimenting with 3D printing. Amazon has filed patent applications for delivery trucks that can print 3D goods while in transit to a customer.

And sales of 3D printed goods and services could exceed $20 billion by 2020. 3D printing could potentially disrupt 41 percent of air cargo shipments, 37 percent of ocean container shipments and 25 percent of the trucking freight business.

Takeaway: In the next few years, 3D printing will shift production closer to consumption, revamping significant part of the global supply chain making fast, on-demand service and last-mile delivery more important and commonplace.

The USPS could play an important role in the 3D printing economy and benefit greatly from it in the future, given the agency's nationally distributed processing facilities. The report urges USPS to -- at a minimum -- begin to associate itself with 3D printing in the minds of the public.

Get more: Read the full report here.

About the Author

Derek Major is a former reporter for GCN.

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