By Brianna Ahearn, contributing writer
Amazon was stopped from launching its drone delivery plans, a program known as Prime Air, after the FCC proposed new drone regulations. However, the retailer is undaunted, and is going after a new way to cut down delivery times, streamline the order fulfillment process, and reduce warehouse space. Amazon wants to mount 3D printers onto a series of delivery trucks, according to reports by Global Manufacturing, The Wall Street Journal, and technology news outlets. The website recently announced that Amazon had filed seeking a patent with the United States Patent and Trademark Office. Amazon hasn't made a statement regarding the patent at this time, however, the Wall Street Journal published an article sharing illustrations from the patent applications.
Amazon currently has a 3D printing store on their website, however, they aren't dominating the retail 3D printing world just yet. Shapeways, the leading 3D printing marketplace and service, is the retailer's biggest competitor in the 3D printing sector. Amazon's 3D store includes jewelry, homewares, electronics, accessories, and more, however, the store is just a marketplace where other sellers can sell items they've made. The patent would increase the draw of the 3D store for Amazon, and it's likely that would attract more sellers.
Filed on February 19, Amazon's patent is a 29-page document outlining the company's proposed plan to process customer orders right on 3D printers located in Amazon trucks. The process would involve a customer placing an order for a 3D-printed object, then the order being received by a hub of 3D printing locations, including right inside Amazon's trucks. Once printed on the truck, the order would be dropped off at a customer's doorstep. According to 3DPrintingIndustry.com, the patent also includes the service provider printing the order, then delivering via mail or placing it for pick-up nearby.
Amazon has continually tried to improve their delivery model, from using drones to offering a one-hour delivery service in New York City, recently expanding it to all of Manhattan. The retailer also offers same-day delivery shipping in certain markets. The retailer also established several fulfillment centers, but it continues to look for new ways to expedite shipping to customers. The company recently faced a new challenge when Target announced it would cut the minimum order needed for free shipping from $50 to $25, effectively undercutting Amazon, who currently offers free shipping on non-Prime orders for $35 or more. Shipping is a major concern for the retailer, and Amazon even went as far as to suspend sellers over missed shipping deadlines in February.
“Time delays between receiving an order and shipping the item to the customer may reduce customer satisfaction and affect revenues generated,” Amazon says in their patent applications. For now the patent application hasn't been accepted, but if it is, then it's definitely a game-changer for anyone who has interest in the 3D printing sector. By not having to hold 3D-printed products in a warehouse inventory, Amazon could free up space in their storage capacity, as well as deliver products faster with the proposed 3D-printer trucks.
Amazon also holds a patent it was granted in 2013 for “anticipatory delivery,” however, no further news about their plans for this patent is available at this time.