Famed 2001: A Space Odyssey writer Arthur C. Clarke once said, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic,” and when it comes to 3D printing, it truly does seem magical. It also seems that 3D printing may turn out to be one of the most invasive and disruptive technologies the world has ever seen, and it is very likely to have a tremendous effect on the fulfillment industry, too. Here are some questions to get you thinking.
Will People Print at Home and Skip the Wait?
There are two things that are very true today to consider: consumers want customized things and they want them right now. Both of these are evident when you consider same-day Amazon shipping and the level of customization that more and more companies are offering their customers. For this reason, some people wonder whether 3D printers in homes across America will effectively render ecommerce useless. After all, why wait for something someone else already has to be delivered when you can make your own customized product at home?
At What Point Will Consumers Order a Product vs. Make It?
Of course, there are some things that consumers will likely always purchase from an outside company – things that would be difficult to manufacture at home due to the limitations of storing materials. For example, manufacturing a replacement backing for a remote control out of plastic is one thing; printing fluffy toilet paper that would make even the Charmin bears green with envy is something else entirely. Chances are that you won’t have to think about ditching your small electronics business for the toilet paper industry just yet, but it is interesting to consider.
Which Industries Will be Affected by the 3D Printing Revolution First?
This is yet another fun and interesting consideration. If 3D printers turned up in homes across the country tomorrow, which industry would be the first to suffer? Which industry would be the first to truly capitalize? These answers may seem simple now. For example, small items made of simple, cheap plastic would likely be the very first things printed in consumers’ homes, so industries that rely on selling these things to consumers will be the first to suffer. Simple metal products will likely come second – nuts and bolts, for example. The companies that are likely to capitalize are those that offer the absolute best plans to create these objects, the best materials to create them with, and the best user-friendly and affordable 3D printers, of course.
What Does This Mean for Fulfillment?
The fulfillment industry relies on managing at least part of the supply chain for various ecommerce businesses, so as those ecommerce businesses go out of business due to the influx of 3D printers, fulfillment companies may have a difficult time finding ways to compensate. Of course, the companies manufacturing 3D printers would likely need a partner to help manage logistics, inventory, and shipping, but as things shift from selling objects to selling plans to make those objects, the fulfillment industry will undoubtedly need to find new ways to continue to operate.
Though these things are fun (and sometimes a little anxiety-inducing) to think about, the truth is that we are many years away from 3D printers in every home, so there’s plenty of time to think about the best way to counteract consumers’ ability to make what they want when they want it. Hopefully, other trends will also continue to shift and give everyone the insight they need to succeed.