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OM in the News: UPS Tries On 3-D Printing

September 20, 2015

3d-printerAt its hub in Louisville, Ky., UPS just rolled out 100 industrial-grade 3-D printers to make everything from iPhone gizmos to airplane parts. UPS wants to find out if 3-D printing centers could shorten supply chains and cut into its $58 billion-a-year transportation business—or give it a leg up in a potentially emerging market for local production and delivery. The difference could be existential. It doesn’t want 3-D printing to disrupt its business the way the Internet pulled the rug out from overnight document deliveries more than a decade ago. The company, writes The Wall Street Journal (Sept. 19-20, 2015), plans to expand next year with another 900 printers, and is looking at opening “print factories” outside the U.S.  (Sales in the 3-D printing industry have risen 34% annually for the past 3 years).

UPS isn’t the only delivery company exploring the printing business. FedEx is examining the field, while Amazon.com has filed a patent for a 3-D printing truck, aimed at creating an on-demand system printing goods from inside delivery vehicles. UPS expects more companies will migrate some production to 3-D printing from traditional manufacturing on an aggressive growth curve.

In Louisville, UPS has used its own service. The company needed to develop a replacement floor beam support bracket for its fleet of Airbus A300 aircraft, which are out-of-production. 3-D printers made the part within hours and workers walked it across the runway for testing in a UPS plane.

Classroom discussion questions:

  1. Why is UPS so interested in 3-D printing?
  2. What are the shortfalls of 3-D printers?
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