Here in the U.S., the United Parcel Service of America (UPS) recently began offering 3D printing services in 100 stores throughout the country–providing convenient accessible 3D printing services to the public. The service was originally tested in some locations to see how well the idea would take off–and it did take off. Now the same idea might just be realized in the UK as well. Today, Royal Mail, the UK mailing company, has teamed up with iMakr, a 3D printing company, to test run 3D printing services at Royal Mail’s New Cavendish delivery center near Oxford Street in London. 3D printing services will be offered there from December 8, 2014 until January.
Royal Mail, a UK based mailing service, may be centuries old (it was founded in 1516), but it’s clearly also ahead of its time as it embraces the future of 3D printing technology in its recently announced partnership with Britain-based iMakr. Considered a public service until 2013 when it was controversially privatized, Royal Mail is now considered a public limited company, with the UK Government a main shareholder with a 30% stake in the company. While highly controversial for its labor implications, privatization allows Royal Mail stocks to be publicly traded, and it also allows it to expand corporate sector partnerships. This is where 3D printing company iMakr enters the picture.
iMakr services will be on hand at the London Royal Mail location to offer several options for customers interested in 3D printing. Services include downloading objects from repositories such as MyMiniFactory.com, to be shipped by Royal Mail, or using your own designs to be printed at Royal Mail or an iMakr store.
iMakr CEO, Romain Kidd, wants to use this opportunity to introduce more people to 3D printing:
“iMakr is excited to bring to Royal Mail its expertise in 3D printing by offering customers an introduction into 3D printing through one if its Central London delivery offices and a selection of objects from MyMiniFactory.com. Royal Mail customers will find unique objects created by the best community of designers for 3D printing, a market in rapid development for which MyMiniFactory.com is delivering key 3D printable content and products like MyMiniFactory TV.”
While there is much excitement about the possibilities for 3D technology, today’s iMakr press release also reflects an understanding of how 3D printing is likely to be used by the majority of UK citizens in the near future. Citing Gartner Inc. 2014 Report on 3D printing, iMakr also notes that in 2018, only 2.3 million 3D printers will be sold internationally, and the majority of these printers will be used in large scale industrial firms, with individual ownership staying small due to the prohibitive costs involved with 3D printing technology.
“3D printing is an emerging technology that has many applications and offers an innovative way to create unique or personalised objects. It can be prohibitively expensive for consumers or small businesses to invest in a 3D printer, so we are launching a pilot to gauge interest in 3D printing to sit alongside Royal Mail’s e-commerce and delivery capability.”
If UPS’s own experience in the 3D printing service arena is any indication, interest for accessible 3D printing capabilities will only grow as the public becomes exposed to the technology. Then, Royal Mail will have to go through the arduous task of deciding what objects they will restrict in 3D printing services (UPS allows the printing of sex toys, but not of guns, gun-related and other weapon related objects.)
While we won’t know the trial run results of this collaborative effort until next month, we do know that it’s initiatives like this that will further shape and define how 3D printing technology is incorporated into everyday living. One thing is for certain: the 3D printing field is widening with announcements such as this trial run featuring the old institution, Royal Mail, and an altogether novel company, iMakr. Now it will be that much easier for Brits to test out 3D printing, either downloading products or joining the growing number of designers in this brave new manufacturing world. Let us know your thoughts on this new partnership in the Royal Mail 3D Printing forum thread on 3DPB.com.