There is little doubt that some of the world’s largest corporations are investigating 3D printing as a means to both make and save money across the board. Amazon, for example, has slowly been inching its way into the space, partnering with several key companies, including Mixee Labs, to offer customizable 3D printed products to their customers.
As the world’s leading ecommerce provider, Amazon seems to stay ahead of the curve when it comes to selling us anything from printer paper to giant $1 million robots. Thus far, it appears as if the company’s decision to enter the 3D printing space has paid off, as they continue to expand the program in both scale and scope.
If you know much about Amazon, then you know that they obsess with getting products to consumers as fast as physically possible. In fact, they have recently launched One-Hour Delivery in Manhattan, and is pushing for delivery via drones. Usually though, the faster a product is shipped, the more money it will cost the company that is shipping it, and ultimately this comes back to the consumer. For example, Amazon needs to stock literally millions of products at warehouse hubs as close to their customers as possible. Warehouse space is not cheap, especially when considering the millions of square feet needed by a company like Amazon.
What if Amazon could avoid same of these storage costs and get items to users even faster with the use of new, rapidly advancing technologies like 3D printing? Well, that’s just what they are looking into.
Late last week United States Patent and Trademark Office published a patent filing by Amazon Technologies, Inc. which outlines a method of 3D printing on-demand within mobile manufacturing hubs. According to Amazon, such a setup could save the company time and money on several fronts.
“The multiplicity of items offered may require the electronic marketplace owner/operator to maintain a large inventory requiring sufficient space to store the inventory,” states the filing. “An electronic marketplace may also face the challenge of time delays related to the process of finding the selected item among a large inventory. Increased space to store additional inventory may raise costs for the electronic marketplace. Additionally, time delays between receiving an order and shipping the item to the customer may reduce customer satisfaction and affect revenues generated. Accordingly, an electronic marketplace may find it desirable to decrease the amount of warehouse or inventory storage space needed, to reduce the amount of time consumed between receiving an order and delivering the item to the customer, or both.”
By utilizing ‘mobile manufacturing apparatuses Amazon would be able to send an STL file to a mobile unit that’s closest to a customer, providing it with instructions to print out an item which was ordered. When the item has been completed, it could then be within miles of the customer who ordered it and quickly delivered or picked up.
The mobile hubs, according to the patent filing, would include a means to both additively and subtractively manufacture an item. This could include a number of different 3D printing technologies as well as CNC machining tools, which would ultimately reduce Amazon’s reliance on warehouse space as well as the robots and employees needed to sort through these stored items.
Of course every patent that’s filed does not materialize into an actual product or service, but as 3D printing technology continues to progress and competition for delivery speed picks up, this is certainly something I could see Amazon eventually putting to use. Now we just have to wait for the drones which 3D print items 10,000 feet above the earth and can deliver items within minutes.
Let us know your thoughts on this patent filing. Could such a 3D printing and delivery process actually work anytime soon? Discuss in the Amazon mobile 3D printing forum thread on 3DPB.com. Below is a quick visualization of what Amazon’s 3D printing process could look like.