Report: 3D Printing Could be a Money Tree for the Ailing US Postal Service

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USPS2According to a new report, The United States Postal Services thinks 3D printing could be a financial boon for the agency.

The white paper, which was released Monday (July 7), is from the USPS’ inspector general office. It speculates that as 3D printing becomes more popular, the USPS would make money in various ways, one of which is due to cost-savings by not having to spend as much money transporting items over large distances.

“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,” according to the IG report.

Another way the USPS’ IG thinks the company could make money is through shipping. Though one would think that 3D printing would eat up the USPS’ business because people would be printing their own goods at home or locally at 3D hubs, the USPS sees things differently. The agency actually sees the potential of an uptick in shipping due to 3D printing.

“Businesses wishing to put their 3D printed products in the hands of consumers as quickly and conveniently as possible may need the ubiquitous postal network, the report said. And if people someday print many items directly, they may frequently need 3D printing supplies such as powders and binding materials delivered. Moreover, the generally small and lightweight nature of 3D printed items makes them a perfect fit for delivery by the Postal Service. Private delivery firms already use the Postal Service for final delivery of many of their own small packages because the Postal Service’s network allows it to deliver these packages more cost effectively.”

Economic consulting firm Christensen Associates assessed the potential affects of 3D printing on the agency. The firm said that 3D printing might raise the Postal Service’s annual package revenue upwards of $485 million.

Another money-making idea is that the Postal Service could start selling 3D-printing related products or even morphing into a 3D-printing hub.

“For example, the Postal Service could partner with 3D printing companies and even potentially bring some printing onsite at postal facilities, as well as provide microwarehousing to help ensure rapid shipment of 3D printed goods.”

The report said that the agency could act as an enforcer of sorts, helping companies with licensing issues.

“The Postal Service could also help protect copyrighted or sensitive digital design files by providing a trusted online marketplace for transmission of designs, or by delivering some files physically through carriers. This could bring a level of security, confidentiality, and privacy that the Internet cannot match. In addition, the Postal Service could look into how advertisers might use 3D printing to customize offerings and better connect with consumers.”

The agency itself could benefit internally by using 3D-printing technology.

“The Postal Service could also use 3D printing to improve its own internal operations by printing spare parts to repair vehicles and mail processing equipment more efficiently.”

The potential benefits of the growing 3D-printing market must be good news to the ailing USPS, which lost $1.9 billion in the second quarter of fiscal 2014, which ended March 31. The U.S. government’s mandate that the agency prefund retiree health benefits is primarily responsible for the loss, as the Postal Service has actually netted $1 billion in operating profits in fiscal 2014.

In 2013, the entire 3D printing industry was valued at around $3 billion. The report says that analysts expect the industry to grow to $16.2 billion by 2018.  What do you think?  Should the Postal Service begin using 3D Printing in a way that tries to generate more income?  Discuss in the USPS 3D Printing forum thread on 3DPB.com.

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