Implications of 3D Printing on the Postal Industry

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Implications of 3D Printing on the Postal Industry

3d-printing-shapeways3D printing has been around for a few years now.  One of the questions is whether it will ever take off.  The industry is growing, turning what used to be experimental items into useful objects.  Check this article on 10 fascinating facts about 3D printing from Nokia.

What is 3D Printing?

3D printing or additive[1] manufacturing is a process of making three dimensional solid objects from digital models.  The  digital models help define, execute, control, and manage the 3D manufacturing process, substantially reducing the time and cost of product development and delivery[2], and enabling the rapid creation of customized products leading to lifelong customer services[3].

A number of techniques exist, such as stereo lithographic and fused deposition modeling, and others are under development. The market for 3D printing is growing at an estimated 16% a year and is expected to reach about $5 billion in the  United States by 2020.[4]  The effects of 3D printing are beginning to be felt across a wide variety of industries[5]  3D printing is currently used in jewelry, footwear, industrial design, architecture, engineering and construction, automotive, aerospace, dental and medical industries, education and consumer products and may soon be used to build printed circuit boards.  Audi, for example, uses an Object 3D printer (utilizing the photopolymerization technique) to produce parts. A video posted on their YouTube channel – “Print My Audi” – demonstrates the process.  The range of plastics that can be used with 3D printers is currently limited.


Implications for the Postal Industry

What impact will 3D printing have on supply chain management and on the postal industry?

  • 3D printing will likely reduce supply chain costs including transport (smaller distances) and warehousing costs (print on demand)
  • 3D will likely prove successful with custom or low-demand items such as auto parts (specific to certain models and year).  3D printing is already used in the dental industry.
  • Shipment size will be reduced because 3D printing will create specific items that will be shipped directly to the client.
  • 3D printing provides opportunities for postal organizations because of smaller shipment sizes and because of a focus on delivery to the ultimate client, leveraging a strong delivery capability.
  • Finally, postal organizations have typically a strong regional presence that will enable them to link efficiently closer-by 3D printers and their clients.

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[1] Additive manufacturing is distinct from traditional machining techniques (subtractive processes) which mostly rely on the removal of material by methods such as cutting and drilling.

[2] Frechette, S. P. (2011). Model Based Enterprise for Manufacturing. 44th CIRP International Conference on Manufacturing Systems, (p. 6). Madison, WI.

[3] Next-Generation Manufacturing Technology Initiative. (2005). Strategic Investment Plan for the Model-Based Enterprise. NGMTI.

[4] Seitz, P. (07/20/2012 ). 3D Printers Graduate From Prototypes To End Products. INVESTOR’S BUSINESS DAILY.

[5] Consumer Electronics Association. (2013 Edition). Five Technology Trends to Watch. 24.


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