Three Companies That Could Become The Kinko's of 3D Printing

Poised to be the next big thing, 3D Printing received a boost yesterday when logistics company UPS announced an increase in the number of stores with 3D printing services. UPS' move is significant because 3D printing-as-a-service is mostly offered as a web service using industrial machines. This is because 3D printing is unlike typical paper printing. It is a niche activity that is largely used to produce complex objects. Turnaround times are longer as compared to paper printing and rates vary (depending on the complexity of objects being produced). Consumer 3D printing machines are complex and require a significant learning curve. All of these factors inflate costs to produce an object using 3D printing. UPS' strategy leverages the company's store network to provide 3D printing services. A graphics expert at each UPS store also offers design services to 3D printing enthusiasts and newbies who are not familiar with the technology. Launched last year at six stores, the 3D printing service has expanded at a rapid clip to 45 and, as of yesterday, 100 planned locations. Here are two companies that could take a page out of the UPS playbook and offer similar 3D printing services. FedEx With over 1800 locations, FedEx Kinko's is already a popular destination for printing, surfing the Internet and collecting parcels and supplies. Students and professionals use their services to print, photocopy, or ship important documents and supplies. This is a valuable target demographic because they are technology enthusiasts and concerned with efficiencies. The company could upsell 3D printing services to this demographic through demonstrations and promotions. Walmart The main case for Walmart's entry into the 3D printing service category rests on prices. With its purchasing clout and extensive store network, the Bentonville-based retailer could drive down prices for the service and product (3D printers). The company already offers an assortment of services, such as photo printing and pharmacy services through partnerships with retail chains. It could bundle 3D printing services with its photo printing service; this could provide a lead-in for an introduction to actual 3D printers for mainstream consumers. 3D printing use cases, which have been restricted to industrial applications, could multiply as the service will be used to print a variety of products. Media attention has already informed mainstream consumers about the possibilities of 3D printers; Walmart's entry into the service segment could propel rapid adoption and proliferation. Walgreens Like Walmart, Walgreens has an extensive store network and physical presence. In addition, the Illinois-based company is also a popular destination for medical supplies. This could be an interesting riff on one of the most important use cases for 3D printers - medical supplies. 3D printing can be used to produce a variety of medical products from contact lenses to prosthetic legs. Walgreens could serve as a clearing house for such custom products. Instead of waiting for expensive shipments from niche suppliers, customers could walk to their nearest Walgreens (with prescriptions or necessary documents) for custom medical products. Medical students could also use the store to produce prototypes for college.

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