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3D printing is one of the most intriguing technological developments to come out of the 21st Century. It’s fair to say that at this point, the hype and raw potential of what could be has exceeded what 3D printing has actually done, but that’s only because the industry is still very new and is constantly developing.
One major brand, UPS (through The UPS Store), has utilized 3D printing to take not only their business, but their entire industry, to the next level.
UPS and 3D Printing: Small Beginnings to Big Outcomes
3D printing makes sense for a lot of companies and is a natural service to offer for many, but not many people predicted that The UPS Store would be one of the first to totally capitalize on the industry.
At the beginning, the process started small. UPS selected a few of their physical locations across the nation and placed a 3D printer on the premises. The idea was to offer customers an additional service as they went about their business of shipping packages.
Over time, though, the idea caught on and became more popular within the company. Now, 3D printing is offered at over one hundred UPS Store locations throughout the nation.
Obviously, giving customers this option represents a new source of revenue for the company. But that isn’t the extent of what 3D printing can have in store for UPS – and others in the industry.
Using 3D Printing to Transform Logistics
At heart, UPS is a logistics company. The core idea behind logistics is having what you need, when you need it, where you need it.
3D printing can be used to transform logistics in a variety of ways. For example, let’s say a company produces a widget. UPS can actually use 3D printers to print the parts for the widget, assemble it on-site, and ship it on behalf of the company to whoever ordered the widget.
The company that makes the widget saves time and money by cutting response times and avoiding having to assemble and ship the parts themselves. They also reduce the number of staff required for those tasks, and the need for shipping materials or packaging.
This process isn’t just a pie-in-the-sky dream; it’s actually being put into place by UPS. They have a facility dedicated to 3D printing in Louisville, Kentucky, that takes in light manufacturing orders, prints and assembles the parts, and then ships the product to the customer.
The end result is a dramatic evolution of logistics that impacts not only UPS, but the manufacturer and the end user as well.
Unlocking Innovation with 3D Printing
Other businesses in other industries can emulate UPS’s innovative approach using 3D printing if they resolve to look for new ways to add value. This means either giving customers a new capability or generating a new source of revenue. Additionally, it can also mean reducing/cutting back on the cost of doing business and/or overhead costs. Then, they must look for ways that 3D printing can complement and enhance what they currently do – and ways 3D printing can do something they don’t currently do, but would like to.
One thing is for sure: UPS won’t be the only major business to take advantage of 3D printing to drive meaningful innovation in their industry.