USPS to Rise Like a Phoenix: True or False?

This is how the USPS OIG imagines postal 3D printing might look. (Source:

Direct mail matters to marketers. Yet the USPS is on its knees due to the rise of email, mobile and the Internet. So could another innovation, 3D printing, save the U.S. Postal Service?
The USPS Office of Inspector General thinks so. “3D printing could boost the Postal Service’s package revenue by $323 million to $1.1 billion per year,” the OIG opines in its July 7 white paper with the relatively dull title of “If It Prints, It Ships: 3D Printing and the Postal Service.” The revenue estimate comes in a headline on Page 25 of the 33-page paper, which screams “3D PRINTING COULD BE A POSTAL BOON.” But could it?

This revenue increase would, of course, be welcome to the USPS, which is not having luck cutting Saturday delivery or gaining union buy-in for its Staples postal services options. (The postal union is vigorously protesting the privatization of postal services at Staples stores and has support from other unions, including the AFL-CIO.)

As for how the USPS could implement 3D printing, the white paper states:

Emerging 3D printing businesses could use the ubiquitous first- and last-mile postal network to connect with their customers. (UPS and FedEx partner with USPS in this network.)

The Postal Service could partner with 3D printing businesses; perhaps using excess space in postal facilities to help streamline the fast delivery of 3D-printed goods.

Even if postal customers start printing goods at home, they’ll need printing materials delivered to them, the white paper points out.

The OIG points out USPS is already behind on this—Amazon and UPS have pilot programs.

So, could 3D printing save the postal service?

Please comment in the section below.

Heather Fletcher is senior content editor with Target Marketing.

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  • Wayne Stoler

    I hope this isn’t the second half of “the post office is going to allow for secure email” by sending to a postal source and they’ll re-send it. That was a major success for the post office, wasn’t it? Must have contributed at least a buck or two to the bottom line … before they subtracted the millions lost on trying to promote such a stupid idea.

    Now they want to be the last mile and provide the services that UPS does so well for companies like Dell. UPS has managed to motivate its employees to do something and work harder. I don’t see the post office trying to get its people to work harder, except poorly trained managers (who were promoted from the lower ranks) trying to get their past-fellow workers to move faster than they refused to move when they were working on the lines with them.

    Now I think the post office should promote the one thing they’ve come up with that makes the most sense – Regional Rate A,B, and C delivery which makes regional shipping and delivery much more affordable than all their other competitors. It’s something that the 3-D printing people can understand. It’s something that all shippers with local clientele can understand.

    The idea behind 3-D printing is to make just what you need, when you need it, and nothing more. Where is the great inventory that the post office is going to store for shipping coming from? Overproduction? That’s what 3-D printing is supposed to help eliminate.

    Just my 2 cents, which probably won’t even cover the next postal rate hike.

  • Strategic Design

    When it comes to what’s challenging the USPS, why do you ignore the elephant in the room? Namely, the fact that the US Congress requires the USPS to fund pensions for the next 75 years — that is, for workers who aren’t even born yet?

    This is an enormous drag on the USPS’ competitiveness — I can’t think of any examples in the private sector, must less the USPS’s competitors, that would even consider such a burden.

    Where are all the anti-regulation politicians when it comes to the USPS?

  • buggs bunny

    the notion of 3D printing will be as foreign to the USPS employees as knowledge about the atmosphere on Mars would be! they don’t know the basic stuff they’re supposed to know, forget about complicated stuff!
    EDDM is still a concept not many of the USPS employees know about or are able to process… I really don’t think USPS can be saved by anything. Unless the Government decides to change completely the business model for it, which will never happen.

  • Jim Gilbert

    Heather I have no confidence that the USPS can roll 3D printing out in a meaningful way. I have been super critical in my columns on I need to see some small incremental progress in helping us marketers market better via direct mail at the very least before I believe they can do something radical and sweeping like this.


  • John Kennedy

    @HeatherFletcher- Technology in general seems to be the most avoided topics in the direct mail industry. Moreover many are classifying the technology used as trends, but in reality should be seen as an evolution in our industry. The possibilities in advertisements or outreach are endless when combining direct mail with evolving technology. Instead of avoiding the topic our industry should embrace it and share how direct mail can be more dynamic because of technology advancements.

  • snitzpub

    Don’t know enough about 3-D printing to know one way or another, but feel like their standardized priority packages concept could be expanded. As a publisher who used to ship via FedEx and UPs at $18 – $20 per case, that same case ships for $12.75, and UPS/FedEx now ships for $25- $30$. Whether it gets there in 2-3 days versus 4-5 makes little difference to my customers.

    I understand Saturday deliver has pro and con’s but wouldn’t miss it, and there needs to be tougher decisions/concessions pushed through a Congress not willing to take responsibility for much these days.
    Franklin must be spinning in his grave.

    USPS is a great instution that needs to be preserved at any cost…and I always thought it was never intended to make money, butneither should it be a money pit.

  • Bill Williams

    You might have included this factoid as well, the Post Office has also inked a deal guaranteeing Sunday delivery of all Amazon products; they figure it will be a huge money maker.

  • HeatherReporter

    Tweets from @adoniramsides: @HeatherReporter the only way #3Dprinting can help the @USPS is if they become last mile hubs. Otherwise, it will be the *end* of the USPS.
    @adoniramsides You and Wayne Stoler had similar thoughts! (His opinion is in the article’s ‘comments’ section.) What do you think?
    @HeatherReporter Agreed, though it’s not just overproduction. #3DPrinting is to the shipping industry as telegraph was to the Pony Express.

  • HeatherReporter