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Jeff Rowe
Jeff Rowe
Jeffrey Rowe has almost 40 years of experience in all aspects of industrial design, mechanical engineering, and manufacturing. On the publishing side, he has written well over 1,000 articles for CAD, CAM, CAE, and other technical publications, as well as consulting in many capacities in the design … More »

UPS Launching Global On-Demand 3D Printing Manufacturing Network

 
May 19th, 2016 by Jeff Rowe

The notion of a 3D printer in every home has received a lot of attention in the past few years, and sales of relatively low cost 3D printers have skyrocketed.

But why? For a process and capability that was supposed to be ubiquitous and necessary for every home? Really? The machines may be relatively inexpensive, but how many parts are you truly going to want to ultimately design and produce? Then there are material, size/volume, and physical characteristic, and quality limitations. The machines can also be fickle to set up and maintain. I suspect that after an initial period of excitement and promise, a lot of early-purchase 3D printers are now sitting idle and collecting dust.

It brings to mind people who have the joy and burden of owning multiple homes. A second home may be nice, but that ends up being the only place you end up going. Most acquaintances that I have known dealing with this issue inevitably as themselves, “Why own when you can rent.” I’m starting to see this same mindset enter into the psyches of early purchasers of 3D printers.

That mindset has produced a possible opportunity for easily “renting” a 3D printer at a location as close as your local UPS store.

About three years ago, Stratasys announced that it had been selected by The UPS Store to provide its 3D printing systems to The UPS Store as part of a test program. This service enabled UPS Store customers to have their 3D design 3D printed on-site.

In a few weeks UPS is launching a distributed, on-demand manufacturing network that links its global logistics network with 3D printers at The UPS Store in more than 60 locations around the U.S. and Fast Radius’ On Demand Production Platform and 3D printing factory in Louisville, KY at the UPS Worldport. This unique integration of an additive manufacturing and logistics solution is intended to make 3D printing accessible to more potential users.

UPS is a minority investor in Fast Radius through the UPS Strategic Enterprise Fund (SEF).  The UPS SEF is a corporate venture capital group that focuses on developing critical partnerships and acquiring knowledge returns from its investments in information technology companies and emerging market-spaces.


The UPS Store 3D Printing Experience

This move further strengthens UPS’s distributed, on-demand manufacturing offering. As an additional part of UPS’s announcement, SAP announced an agreement with UPS to create an end-to-end industrial solution. SAP’s extended supply chain solutions will be integrated with UPS’s on-demand manufacturing solution and global logistics network to simplify the industrial manufacturing process from digitization, certification, order-to-manufacturing and delivery. However, SAP is not a requirement for using the UPS manufacturing network.

“UPS is a leader in bringing industrial-strength 3D printing to reality. By building this disruptive technology into our supply chain models, we also bring new value to our manufacturing customers of all sizes,” said Stan Deans, president, UPS Global Distribution & Logistics. “Additive manufacturing technology is still developing rapidly so ‘manufacturing as a service’ is a smart approach for many companies.”

Customers will visit the Fast Radius website (formerly CloudDDM) to place their 3D printing orders, which will be directed to the optimal manufacturing or The UPS Store location based on speed, geography, and the product quality a customer requires. Orders can be shipped as quickly as the same day. While participating The UPS Store locations are all in the U.S., companies globally could utilize the network and place orders.

The UPS Worldport is the worldwide air hub for UPS located at the Lousiville International Airport. Although UPS has had a hub at Louisville since 1980, the term was not used officially by the company until 2002, after a $1 billion, five-year expansion. Previously, the project was named Hub 2000. The facility is currently the size of 5.2 million square feet and capable of handling 115 packages a second, or 416,000 per hour. With over 20,000 employees, UPS is one of the largest employers in Louisville and Kentucky, and serves all major domestic and international hubs.

In a nutshell, here’s how the manufacturing network will work. By integrating SAP’s extended supply chain software with the UPS additive manufacturing solution and logistics network, manufacturing companies of all sizes will be able to access on-demand industrial manufacturing with the touch of a button. SAP customers will be able to digitize and simplify the production part approval process through SAP and their orders can be seamlessly routed to UPS for production and delivery.

The on-demand network created will benefit customers of all sizes:

  • Manufacturers wanting to reduce inventory for slow-moving parts
  • Manufacturers with short production runs where the cost to create the mold or tooling could make these orders too expensive for traditional manufacturing
  • Manufacturers and retailers of custom/semi-custom goods as additive manufacturing allows cost-effective customization of goods
  • Industrial designers and engineers who want high quality rapid prototypes delivered as fast as one day
  • Entrepreneurs, start-ups and manufacturers who don’t currently have access to 3D printers or have limited capital and time and will use 3D printing for rapid prototyping and manufacturing of initial production runs

“Fast Radius plans to continue enhancing its production platform and to globally expand its manufacturing capabilities in 3D printing (plastics and metals), CNC machining and rapid injection molding,”said Rick Smith, co-founder and CEO of Fast Radius.  “With this distributed, on-demand manufacturing network, UPS customers will be able to get their products to market faster and more cost-effectively because parts can be produced exactly in the quantity they need and when they need them. The potential of on-demand manufacturing is here today.”

The UPS Store was the the first nationwide retailer to offer 3D printing services in-store. “Connecting all The UPS Store locations into a larger network provides more opportunity for new customers to access our printers and gives customers added flexibility to match their requirements with the appropriate UPS location,” said Daniel Remba, Small Business Technology Leader for The UPS Store, Inc.

How well trained 3D printing technicians will be at UPS stores and how they will resolve problematic issues that are bound to come up remains to be seen. But, UPS has got a big leg up in this new venture coupled with its expertise in logistics.

So, will fans and proponents of 3D printing quit buying and start renting? If the successes of other online 3D printing “rental” services, such as RedEye, Shapeways, and i.Materialise are any indication, then there just might be a place for “walk-up” 3D printing at UPS stores.

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