A Great Big City

USPS Explores 3D Printing as a New Source of Revenue

Possible Post Office
Possible Post Office via Rob Stinnett on Flickr

The U.S. Post Office is no stranger to budgetary problems, currently bleeding money each quarter, so the Office of the Inspector General is exploring new sources of revenue. 3D printing is set to take the world by storm and upend traditional retail and shipping methods, and the USPS sees a huge opportunity.

Today, most 3D printing is done by at-home machines which cost roughly $1500 to $3000 and produce prints that are of questionable quality and usability. Larger commercial 3D printers cost far more, but are able to produce prints from a variety of materials and of higher quality. The USPS report shows potential for the post office to participate in both methods of printing: Larger printing companies could send prints directly to the post office for shipping, and home printers would help increase post office revenue as packages of printing material and supplies are shipped to homes. In addition to fulfilling customer's orders, the report also explores using 3D printers to produce replacement parts for their fleet of aging vehicles and mail-processing equipment, reducing the cost of replacing the vehicles or contracting outside companies to fabricate custom parts.

The Postal Service could create a platform for 3D printing that uses its national retail network and last-mile capabilities. By doing so, the Postal Service would create a digital “middle mile” where, at a basic level, designs are sent to the platform and then 3D printed and shipped via same-day or next-day delivery. - USPS OIG report [PDF]

The result? A possible revenue boost of $323 million to $1.1 billion per year.

Chart showing potential revenue increase given USPS adoption of 3D printing

The report references an existing partnership between French 3D printing company Sculpteo and La Poste, the French post office, where consumers can order and pick up 3D prints through post office locations. It's easy to imagine a company like Shapeways teaming up with the USPS in a similar way.

Isn't it exciting to live in the future? Let's put this NASA-provided 3D surface of the moon on a flash drive and head down to the post office to print off a few copies!

(Post office image modified from Rob Stinnett on Flickr)

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