It’s no secret what the advent of digital technology has done to mail volume, particularly First-Class Mail. But there’s an emerging digital technology catching hold that could be a boon to the U.S. Postal Service. It’s called 3D printing, and it’s expected to increase the number of lightweight parcels, a segment of the parcel market where the Postal Service excels.
3D printers build solid objects usually one razor-thin layer at a time using plastics, powders, metals, polymers, or other materials. Examples include one-of-a-kind jewelry, custom-fit dental implants or hearing aids, unique iPhone cases, and the like. Mostly small-size things, at least so far. But one of the big advantages of 3D printing is the ability to customize just about anything to anyone’s taste or whim, and people increasingly like custom-made products.
Retailers are already using 3D printers to make these kinds of goods, which consumers are buying and having shipped to them. The total 3D printing industry was valued at around $3 billion in 2013 but is expected to grow to $16.2 billion by 2018. And as it grows, 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.
In our new white paper, If It Prints, It Ships: 3D Printing and the Postal Service, we explore how 3D printing could lead to an increase in packages delivered by the Postal Service representing $485 million in new annual revenue. Emerging 3D printing businesses could take advantage of the Postal Service’s unique and ubiquitous first- and last-mile network: Carriers already delivering mail every day, making the addition of lightweight parcels easy and cost-effective. And the Postal Service could partner with 3D printing businesses, perhaps using excess space in postal facilities, to help streamline the fast delivery of 3D printed goods.
Tell us what you think:
How much experience have you had with 3D printing?
In what areas do you think 3D printing will have the most impact?
How could the Postal Service adapt its business strategy to handle a rise of 3D-printed goods?