Feb. 25, 2015 | By Alec

That Amazon has had its eye on commercial 3D printing services for a while is hardly a secret. They already launched a web store specifically for 3D printed objects back in July 2014, while all signs and reports suggest that Amazon believes that there’s a very large bright future for 3D printing around the corner. It’s therefore hardly surprising that they are experimenting with various forms of 3D printing services, but they have just filed a patent for something completely unexpected: 3D printing aboard Amazon trucks that are making deliveries.

At first it sounds kind of like a taco truck for 3D printing, but perhaps the concept isn’t so terribly strange. The entry at the US Patent Filing office essentially describes a typical process of a 3D printing service, through which customers request the manufacturing of specific items that will be delivered to their home. But instead of relying on a remote manufacturing location, items are 3D printed aboard Amazon trucks that are driving throughout the country, to be finished once reaching your doorstep.

As part of the application, the web services retail giant defends its claim as an innovation that saves time and money: money on warehouses and storage, time by not having to wait for 3D printing to be completed before being shipped off. "Increased space to store additional inventory may raise costs for the electronic marketplace. Additionally, time delays between receiving an order and shipping the item to the customer may reduce customer satisfaction and affect revenues generated," the entry states. "Accordingly, an electronic marketplace may find it desirable to decrease the amount of warehouse or inventory storage space needed, to reduce the amount of time consumed between receiving an order and delivering the item to the customer, or both."

In that respect it sounds quite clever and seems typical of Amazon’s innovative approach (remember when they explored drone-based delivery systems?), though you’d have to wonder how this can possibly be practical. Does it mean that every delivery man in America gets educated in 3D printer operation, cleaning and assembling? Does it mean a specialized fleet of 3D printer vans will simply drive around all day?

The patent itself seems to have been prepared for a long time, originally being filed in November 2013. As its inventors, the patent lists the following people: Linda Knowlten Apsley, Colin Ian Bodell, Jacob Conrad Danton, Scott Randall Hayden, SaiPrasad Kapila, Eric Lessard and Robert Benjamin Uhl.

But there is also a slight cause for concern hidden amongst the paragraphs of this lengthy patent file, as Amazon is also essentially requesting a patent on a 3D printing service (the kind of which you can find everywhere).

"By 'mobile', we mean that the position of the 3D manufacturing apparatus changes because it is mounted within or contained within a moving vehicle or other structure," Amazon wrote.

Can that be patented? And for that matter, can any service be patented provided the production method is loaded onto a truck? Perhaps it’s time to load an office copy machine onto the back of a truck and visit the patent filing office.

But of course the filing of patent doesn’t mean it becomes universally accepted; there are still enough opportunities to overturn it in court, and it wouldn’t at all surprise me if it was challenged. And even if that happens, Amazon will have done enough to generate some publicity surrounding its 3D printing service, which might be the main goal after all.



Posted in 3D Printing Services


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PatentYogi wrote at 3/2/2015 7:16:39 PM:

We made a video for your article on the Amazon patent on 3D printer for delivery trucks. Video - http://bit.ly/1aIOjrd

Cromz wrote at 3/2/2015 7:07:03 PM:

if they use printers like the ones out there now, what are they going to do? stop in front of someones house and print the object? so that means you'll have a amazon truck in your driveway or in the street in front of your house for several hours? lol huh nope!

RepRap and Fablabber wrote at 2/26/2015 10:16:04 AM:

Man the large companies really have no idea.. there are so many RepRaps and FabLabs around now why do they think that printing PLUS deliveries will work.. its so unecological they miss the whole poing of the 3d printing revolution.

3d wrote at 2/25/2015 1:54:43 PM:

That is ridiculous indeed. Every day I see more of these stupid patents that really -could- threaten the future of rapid prototyping. The fact that these big companies keep trying these stunts and maybe even get away with it sickens me!

. wrote at 2/25/2015 1:19:38 PM:

Does Amazon even have delivery trucks?

AMnerd wrote at 2/25/2015 12:49:15 PM:

This will require an extreme increase in the robustness of 3D printers

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