Amazon has been experimenting with new shipping methods lately, but one day soon it might not have to worry about sending items at all, and use 3D printers to produce them on the curbs outside customers' homes instead. The e-commerce giant has filed several patent applications for a system that could print goods on-demand in "mobile manufacturing hubs" — trucks outfitted with 3D printers that could rapidly produce and deliver items on their travels.
The patent filing explains that the system would help speed up the delivery process even further and help reduce the warehouse space the company needs to hold. "Time delays between receiving an order and shipping the item to the customer may reduce customer satisfaction and affect revenues generated," Amazon says in the documents. The Wall Street Journal imagines a scenario in which the mobile hubs could be used to supply customers with replacement parts for their car, or other 3D-printed items, before a road trip on the same day.
The company has yet to be awarded the patent for such mobile manufacturing hubs, but it's just the latest in a series of schemes to reduce the time it takes to ship items. In early 2014, Amazon was awarded a patent for "anticipatory delivery," a system that would let the e-retailer send products to shipping hubs that it believes will sell well based on previous searches and purchases. Amazon is also using new hardware to try to cut shipping times down — in 2013, the company announced an ambitious plan to use drones to deliver some items, long before the FAA set rules on commercial drone flights.