Insights from UPS' Additive Manufacturing Initiative

Feb. 25, 2019
Additive manufacturing as the fourth modality of logistics.

“I’m very focused on helping UPS make the jump from the industrial economy to the digital economy, from a supplier-centric supply chain to a consumer-centric supply chain, and from ‘the tightest ship in the shipping industry’ to one that is also highly adaptable and agile.”

That’s Alan Amling, VP of corporate strategy with United Parcel Service, who is leads the shipping giant’s Additive Manufacturing Initiative. We wanted to learn more about UPS’ approach to 3D printing, so we asked. Take a look…

Smart Industry: How is UPS using additive manufacturing?

Alan: UPS sees additive manufacturing as the fourth modality of logistics; air, ocean, ground and now digital. We see great opportunity in helping our customers lower inventory and create new customized products. To this end, we invested in an additive-manufacturing-services company, Fast Radius, and integrated their capabilities into our global logistics network. 

Smart Industry: How is additive manufacturing affecting go-to-market strategy at UPS?

Alan: We’re still in the early days, so the impact on our GTM strategy to date has been minimal. However, all big things were small at one point. We’re at a real inflection point right now in additive manufacturing with material cost plummeting and materials, quality and speed all improving exponentially. This will be another “slow…slow…wow that was fast” digital-economy success story.

Smart Industry: How is UPS using additive manufacturing?

Alan: Additive manufacturing is a digital disruption. Over time, manufacturing will increasingly be distributed with goods being produced on demand in lower quantities closer to the point of consumption. Disruption is just change, and change can be good or bad depending on how you respond to it. We’ve decided that we want to be a part of this change, not a victim of it. In the process we think that we can create a lot of value for our customers.

Smart Industry: What opportunities for growth does additive manufacturing deliver to your enterprise?

Alan: Additive manufacturing allows UPS to move upstream in the supply chain to enable new on-demand business models for our customers. Ultimately, UPS is an enabler of global commerce. Additive manufacturing is just another way we’re making that happen.

Smart Industry: What unforeseen challenges have you encountered in implementing your additive-manufacturing initiatives?

Alan: We have had a lot of early learnings since our partner, Fast Radius, launched their first Additive Micro Factory on our UPS Supply Chain Campus in Louisville. Customers loved the vision, but the practical issues of understanding what they can print, what makes financial sense to print, how to certify and ensure consistent quality and how to scale were holding them back from adopting additive manufacturing for industrial production. These learnings led Fast Radius to create the Application Launch program. We take 10-12 non-competing companies through an intensive 6-month program that’s a mix of in-class and field work to help them launch new applications in their company. We’re incredibly happy with the success of the program and will be expanding it in 2019.

Smart Industry: What most excites you about the near future of additive manufacturing? 

Alan: The expansion of materials at the same time material cost is declining is exciting. It opens up millions of parts and products to additive manufacturing that didn’t make financial sense previously. I’m also excited about the new metal additive technologies hitting the market.

Find more of our additive-manufacturing coverage here.