Why the Retail and Shipping Industries Should Fear 3D Printing

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Additive manufacturing technologies are developing so rapidly, while prices are continuing to drop and mainstream adoption is getting ever so close. These could be the key ingredients to what may lead to several ind-3industries, worth trillions of dollars, being turned upside down. We aren’t there yet, but in the next 7-10 years 3D printing will have become, not just a cool technology, but an idea which will be entangled within everyone’s daily lives.

Just like the internet exploded in popularity in the late 1990’s, 3D printing is about to enter a period in which mainstream adoption takes off, while the technology itself slowly creeps into just about everything we do in one way or another. It won’t happen over night, but there are several industries which need to pay close attention, setting their horizons a decade into the future, preparing for a time where their business models may abruptly change. Here are two industries which are likely to see major volatility due to the growth within the additive manufacturing space.

1) Shipping and Delivery
Not only companies like UPS, FedEX and DHL will need to pay close attention, but container cargo shipping companies like NYK, Evergreen Marine, and CMA-CGM need to watch out as well. As 3D printers creep their way into homes, businesses, and office supply stores, while the technology quickly advances, there will come a time when it may be cheaper to simply download a file off the internet, and have a product printed at home or a local 3D ind-1printing hub. Naturally this will cut down, perhaps significantly on the number of items being shipped. We would become a society demanding raw materials, rather than one demanding finished goods. The main shipping companies, like FedEx and UPS can expand their in store 3D printing offerings to try and counter some of these changes. Container shipping companies will likely need to concentrate on the shipment of raw materials, but ultimately they will suffer the most, as the market for such materials pales in comparison to that of finished good.

2) Specialized Retail/ Department Stores
What happens when you can print out a toilet brush, picture frame, or trash can at home instead of having to run to Walmart, Target, or one of the dozens of other chain department stores? What may be good for the consumer, may be a nightmare for the shareholders and management of the various department stores and specialty stores out there. Eventually there will come a time when nearly anything can be produced from a 3D printer. When that time comes, how retail stores adapt will be key to just how severe a loss we could see across the entire retail industry. Companies can adapt, but ultimately money will be lost.  What we could see are retail outlets setting aside areas within their stores to set up customization hubs.  Within these hubs costumers can, with the help of specially trained service personnel, customize virtually any object they want and have it printed out while they are shopping.  In this model we would see traditional retail outlets become hybrid stores/service bureaus.

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No one can tell the future, but what they can do is use trend lines, graphs, and histories of past markets to predict what will likely take place within the next 5, 10 or even 20 years. Some may say 3D printing is over hyped.   After all, the concept of the technology has only begun to creep its way outside the walls of prototyping facilities, just a few years ago. With this said, there is no denying the fact that in the last three years alone we have seen more progress in the 3D printing space than the previous 20 combined. There are now close to a dozen different types of technologies which can be used to print 3D structures, some mature, others just being discovered. Whether these companies like it or not, I can assure you that they have experts looking into the possible scenarios that may arise in the next decade, as 3D printers become commonplace throughout the world.

What is your opinion?  Discuss at 3DPrintboard how the retail and shipping industries should adapt to the coming age of 3D printers, or if they will even need to?

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