Now we are vocal proponents of 3D Printing and want to see the technology adopted and used as widely as possible, but when we learned that Amazon had filed a patent for Mobile 3D Printing on their delivery trucks, we knew from experience that mobile working of any kind is navigating a very bumpy road.
Mobile 3D Printing = Mobile Office Vehicle
3D Printers are hard enough to operate to get predictable results in the best of conditions. Now add the complications of vibration, the G-forces of quick stops and hard turns, changing temperature and humidity conditions from opening and closing truck doors and you are asking more of Mobile 3D Printing than even the most expensive machines are designed to do. We learned this the hard way 20 years ago when designing and developing the AutoExec and Mobile Office Vehicle (Mo-V) for insurance adjusters and traveling sales people. A vehicle of any kind is such a difficult environment to work in that even the most ordinary tasks become challenging. The Mo-V was designed to be used only when parked, but all of the equipment like printer, fax (hey – it was 20 years ago!), office chair, files, pens, scissors… still had to be locked down and prepared for withstanding being constantly hauled all over the roads in all kinds of conditions.
Even if Amazon only prints orders when the truck is parked, their 3D printers will need to be highly customized to absorb the shock of normal driving conditions and include build platforms that can’t be knocked out of level. It is hard to imagine based on average print times of the current technology that it can even be profitable to print parked. There is no doubt that 3D printing technology is advancing daily and print times are decreasing, so perhaps in a decade or so Mobile 3D printing will be viable.
After reading Amazon’s complete patent application it is clear that there is a lot more to it than just Mobile 3D Printing. It actually has more to do with decentralized ordering, distribution of 3D printing machine instructions and local on demand printing prior to delivery. We expect Amazon will eventually learn that 3D printing on demand in a mobile truck is much easier said than done. Hopefully their patent won’t expire before the technology catches up with the need for Mobile 3D Printing and their ability to supply the masses with zero inventory.