Could 3-D Printing Save the USPS?
The office of the inspector general for the United States Postal Service (USPS) recently released a report claiming the USPS is uniquely positioned to benefit from the rising popularity of 3-D printing. The report provides numerous reasons as to why this is the case, from the USPS's deep network of "last mile" delivery routes to its cost efficiency with lightweight packages. It also suggested that the USPS could become majorly entwined with the 3-D printing industry, standing to reap large financial gains. Said the report:
"The Postal Service could benefit tremendously by the rise of 3-D printing. This is primarily due to two factors: the Postal Service's ubiquitous first- and last-mile delivery network and its strength in handling lightweight goods. The Office of Inspector General asked Christensen Associates—a renowned economic consulting firm with extensive knowledge of Postal Service operations—to assess how 3-D printing could affect the Postal Service. By analyzing commercial package data, Christensen Associates estimated that 3-D printing could raise the Postal Service's annual package revenue by $485 million as businesses ship increasing numbers of 3-D printed goods to consumers."
The report details what services and infrastructure the USPS would need to build and maintain to benefit from 3-D printing, as well as how specifically the USPS could work with 3-D printers for mutual financial benefit. The full report is available as a PDF download at the office of the inspector general's library here.
While the report is (understandably) optimistic about how much the USPS could gain from a mainstream 3-D printing industry, others are not as convinced. Forbes and the Brookings Institution have both published pieces critiquing the USPS report. Said the Brookings Piece:
"3-D Printing not a Panacea for the USPS. Even in the most optimistic scenario analysts predict that 3-D printing could increase USPS revenues about $1.743 billion. That figure certainly represents a boost to the Postal Service's efforts to develop a new business model that is sustainable in the long-term. But, to survive the Postal Service will need to find other ways to balance their books. In 2013 the USPS had operating revenue of about $67 billion and operating expenses of about $72 billion. Their net loss for the year was $4.977 billion. The projected additional revenue from 3-D printing would only cover 35 percent of the agency's annual net loss."
What do you think? Is 3-D printing a golden opportunity for the USPS, or is nothing more than wishful thinking? Let us know in the comments below.