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3D Printing to Bring $485 Million to USPS?

on Jul 8 2014 , 07:30:15

In a white paper titled If It Prints, It Ships: 3D Printing and the Postal Service released yesterday by the US Postal Service (USPS) Inspector General (IG), the IG claims 3D printing has the potential to raise USPS revenue by up to $485 million.

The USPS IG’s main argument, which is backed upon by economic consulting firm Christensen Associates whom the IG asked for further assessment on the topic, is that 3D printing will lead to more small packages being shipped over shorter distances.

The paper’s executive summary states: “As 3D printing spreads and moves production closer to consumption, it could have major implications for everyone along existing supply chains, including the U.S. Postal Service. 3D printing could lead to more single-item parcels being shipped to consumers over shorter distances, instead of hundreds of thousands of identical items sent by containerized cargo over vast distances.”

$485 million

Increased quantity and frequency of smaller packages being shipped is certainly a possibility with greater usage of 3D printing companies or individuals who offer their services. Sites like Shapeways and 3D Hubs offer people worldwide the chance to purchase or print unique tailor-made goods at locations closest to their home cities to reduce time, money and carbon footprint.

“The Postal Service could benefit tremendously by the rise of 3D printing. This is primarily due to two factors: the Postal Service’s ubiquitous first- and last-mile delivery network and its strength in handling lightweight goods,” states the IG. “By analyzing commercial package data, Christensen Associates estimated that 3D printing could raise the Postal Service’s annual package revenue by $485 million as businesses ship increasing numbers of 3D printed goods to consumers.”

For the good of the public

The white paper continues to elaborate on 3D printing’s projected impact on the USPS by discussing its influence on businesses. It claims 3D printing could make large retailers rethink the need to maintain “expensive and duplicative warehouses stocked with massive inventories” in favor of inventory that only materializes and is shipped when in demand.

The USPS IG also mentions the 3D printing industry could be extremely important not just for the USPS, but also for the American public. His argument, one which is being hotly debated by 3D printing industry experts, is that 3D printing could start to reshore previously outsourced manufacturing back to the US, which could be a “powerful engine for job creation and economic growth.”

A blessing in disguise?

To summarize, the white paper states: “3D printing has the potential to be amazingly disruptive, and some people think the changes brought on by it will exceed even those of the Internet. While the Internet did much to overcome the challenges of time and distance by making everything local, 3D printing could take things to the next level by making on-demand products at any location. The question is, who will win from a 3D printing revolution and who will lose? By embracing this groundbreaking technology, the Postal Service could put a compelling 21st century twist on its historical mission to serve citizens and facilitate commerce.”

Essentially, what the USPS are saying is that 3D printing and the shortening of the bridge between production to consumption has the potential to affect them hugely – either negatively or positively. If they embrace the changes 3D printing will bring and incorporate them into their work (the paper also discusses potential for USPS future partnerships with 3D printing companies) then the technology may just be a blessing in disguise.

Shanie Phillips is a originally from the UK, but has spent many years in Singapore, the US and now Israel. In addition to writing for Inside3DP she writes for several news and innovation sites.

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