3D printing is often named as a solution for minimizing shipments of little plastic trinkets halfway around the world. But the U.S. Postal Service thinks that people will continue to ship goods short distances, and 3D printing could boost package revenue by $323 to $646 million annually in the future.
According to a study published by the USPS Office of Inspector General:
It is often not cost effective for private delivery firms to make separate stops to deliver small, relatively inexpensive packages — particularly in rural areas. However, the Postal Service is already visiting these locations every day. As such, other delivery firms often use the Postal Service for last-mile delivery. In fact, nearly two thirds of lightweight, commercial packages are delivered to their final destination by the Postal Service. This is directly relevant to 3D printing, as the vast majority of 3D printed consumer goods are relatively lightweight.
Along with shipping, it states that the USPS could create regional centers for 3D printing companies by renting out some of the 60 million square feet of excess space it owns across the country. Companies that produce goods directly within a shipping center would further reduce the time and cost it takes to ship them.
The study cites Shapeways, which 3D prints objects and ships them to customers on demand, as an existing practicer of a similar model. UPS and Staples have also been experimenting with offering 3D printing services. The study states that to compete, the USPS’s shipping network could not be weakened by cutbacks — a step that may be necessary at its current revenue levels.