Where do you go when you have an idea and want to get it 3D printed? Your friendly neighborhood shipping and printing store, of course.
Or what if, instead of buying a product and having it shipped to you, the company just gives you a 3D file specified to your purchase and you bring it to be printed?
Or if we could reduce shipping and warehouse costs and packaging material waste by combining shipping and manufacturing?
That’s where 3D printing is headed. In 10-15 years, these scenarios could be our new normal.
3D Printing Could Greatly Impact Shipping Companies
3D printers and technology is becoming more accessible to both businesses and end consumers. And this could mean shipping and logistics companies won’t be as necessary as they once were.
If companies could set up smaller, more numerous factories equipped with only 3D printers closer to their customer bases, they won’t need to ship their goods across the world. Companies may start outsourcing the printing to their wholesalers, or even directly to the customer.
Fewer bulk materials would need to be shipped to the manufacturers. And since 3D printed goods tend to be lighter, shipping them isn’t as expensive.
And that’s exactly why shipping companies such as UPS are starting to invest in 3D printing now.
These shipping giants are looking to be the ones to offer services to companies that choose to rely on 3D printing in the future. By offering services such as on-demand printing, they plan to help their customers reduce manufacturing, shipping, and inventory costs instead of losing business to the technology.
Why 3D Printing Works for Shipping Companies
- There’s no need for huge warehouses. Though different materials require different printers, the number of machines used is still fewer than what is normally seen in manufacturing. You also don’t need to switch out tools in order to print different items.
- Less storage is required. Most 3D printing materials come in powders or filaments.
- Comparatively small amounts of waste. 3D printing is additive, meaning materials are added one layer at a time. For the most part, only as much material is used as needed. Since most materials are powdered, the excess is vacuumed or swept up to be used again.
- Expands on current product offerings. Many consumers already turn to their local UPS store or Fedex Kinko’s when they need marketing, presentation, or training materials. 3D printing allows those consumers to take their materials in a different direction – one that will probably be more effective.
Printing on Demand
3D printing has several advantages over traditional manufacturing techniques. For example, traditional manufacturing generally requires minimum orders. After your run is complete, parts and tools are changed out to start producing the next order.
A 3D printer can print one item, print a completely different design next, and then go back to the original item. No tools are swapped out. You just tell the machine to print from a different 3D file.
Since the shipping company doesn’t need to have specialized equipment or tools beyond what is required for 3D printing, the producer could pass orders on to them for fulfillment. The item is printed and shipped out – potentially getting orders to customers much faster.
Make Warehouses Virtual
But this also means companies won’t have to produce thousands of replacement parts that may never be used. If a customer requests a part for a product no longer in production, it’s still possible to get the part to them without spending thousands in warehousing spare parts – just pass the order on to the shipper.
A Ways Off – But Fast Approaching
It will be several years before we see a big impact on the shipping and logistics industry from 3D printing adoption. But this also means you have time to start planning how your company will respond to this evolution in manufacturing. Will you wait and see – or take advantage?
Something Cool is Happening Right Now
Amazon has filed a patent for 3D printing delivery trucks. Basically, you place your order, the order is printed inside of the truck, and then delivered to you. You could have a fresh-off-the-press item in just a few hours.