3D Printing Goes Mainstream Retail

Just another day at UPS: Photocopy the ol' resume, ship back shoes to Zappos, print a car part.

About a month ago, a UPS store in eastern San Diego started offering a new service: 3D printing. Six weeks ago, store owner Burke Jones says, "I didn't know anything about 3D printing."

"I'd love to take credit for the idea because it's been really successful, but the truth is UPS came up with it," he adds. "They wanted to test the market." Last week, UPS rolled out another 3D printer, at a shop in Northwest DC, and it plans to open up four more over the next few months, at locations that have yet to be finalized.

Since the printer arrived at his store (a uPrint SE Plus), Jones has faced a pretty steep learning curve, he says, experimenting with the technology right alongside his clientele, who range from basement tinkerers looking to test some far-fetched idea to big businesses whose engineers just need to prototype something quickly and the company's equipment is otherwise occupied. Those are the easy jobs, Jones says, "They call us up and say I have an [STL] file and I need to print three of them." No problem.

Jones doesn't want to give anyone's ideas away, but he's seen people come in and print things ranging from "pet-feeding apparatuses to high-tech gadgets you attach to your smartphone." Several people have come in needing a car part, such as the little plastic gizmos you used to pull to unlock a manual door. "There was a guy who had some old cars and those had broken off and he wanted those," Jones says. It's not exactly cheap -- something as simple as a ball bearing can cost $15 and prices go up from there -- but for companies trying to get a quick prototype, that can be well within the budget for a project. 

Read more at The Atlantic