Will small businesses find enough uses for 3D printers to add profit to the UPS Store business model? The company is about to find out. While many have blogged about how great 3D printing will be for users ranging from home hobbyists to professional engineers, this technology has not replaced any other form of build or manufacturing equipment. Will it truly “democratize” product development? Despite all the blogs on that assumed eventuality, it still remains to be seen. It’s past time to actually test all of these claims.
MCor Technologies and Staples was the first of this retail style relationship to offer any interested customer access to 3D printing. Now, the UPS Store has just announced that it will offer 3D printing, primarily to its small business customers, but also to anyone who is interested in exploring 3D printing. (And where is Kinko’s? Many thought it would be among the first to offer 3D printing to anyone.)
The UPS Store plans to install Stratasys uPrint SE Plus printers in six of its locations, the first installation in San Diego.
According to the press release, a variety of customers, including entrepreneurs, designers, architects, start-ups, and walk ups, will be able to have their 3D CAD files professionally 3D printed on-site, in real-time. It will be interesting to see how this experiment works. There are several potential challenges that UPS will need to work out. For example, how will the Store work with customers’ design data? How will it ensure these data are in a suitable format for 3D printing? How will it deal with customers who want prototypes but don’t really know how to get started? As experienced users of 3D printers know, things can and often do go wrong during the first few prototypes; will UPS employ a staff to help with this aspect of customer service? While UPS is known for quick delivery, will the same ethos apply to 3D printed prototypes? Has it thought out finishing needs? And, of course, a key question—can the UPS Store make a profit at this?
Apparently Stratasys will be helping in this venture, so it stands a good chance of success. It will be interesting to see if there is enough of a market desire for this service; it will be interesting to see proof for all of our beliefs and views about the usefulness of 3D printing.