July 7, 2014  (RARC-WP-14-011)

3D printers build physical objects out of digital designs, usually by assembling powders, metals, plastics, and other materials layer-by-layer with tremendous precision. Because the digital designs can be endlessly tweaked and modified, 3D printing turns customers into creators and taps into the current trend of mass customization. The technology is starting to have a significant impact on the $10.5 trillion global manufacturing sector, and promises to democratize production and fundamentally change the supply chains of today.

A  Postal Service Office of Inspector General white paper explores how the U.S. Postal Service could experience a significant boost in commercial package volume as 3D printing becomes more widespread. Most 3D printed objects are lightweight, which are exactly the type of parcel the Postal Service specializes in handling. As more businesses begin to sell 3D printed goods to consumers, they may need the ubiquitous postal network and the Postal Service’s unmatched last-mile delivery capabilities to better connect with customers. By embracing this groundbreaking technology and potentially partnering with 3D printing businesses to do printing at or near postal facilities, the Postal Service could put a compelling 21st century twist on its historical mission to serve citizens and facilitate commerce.

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