Amazon is a company that sells just about anything anywhere on the planet. For that reason, it has been a pioneer in warehousing, distribution, and ordering systems. It is only natural that it is also becoming a pioneer in using 3D printers to create certain items that customers order, thus freeing up warehouse space and creating a manufacturing on demand system. The company is going one step farther and is contemplating putting 3D printers on its delivery trucks.
In February, Amazon filed a patent to provide services related to item delivery via 3D manufacturing on demand. The idea is that when a customer orders an item from Amazon that is capable of being 3D printed, the act of ordering the item would send the coded instructions to the nearest 3D printer to the customer, whether it is in a warehouse or a delivery truck. The item is printed out and then delivered to the customer in short order.
Doubtless, Amazon is going to start with relatively simple items to print out, say a cutting board or a plastic toy. Printing with plastic is easy and is the oldest form of 3D printing. But the technology is constantly advancing, moving into other materials such as metals and even ceramics. More and more items will be added to the 3D printing list as the technology and the economics of additive manufacturing improves.
One can conceive of an era when Amazon becomes both a manufacturer and a seller of a whole inventory of products. A third-party vendor would not sell products on Amazon, but would lease out the code for the products, which Amazon would manufacture on the spot and then sell. The technology promises to change the retail industry in many ways that we are now starting to imagine.