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Why bother with delivery by drone when you can deliver — and make — the product on the same truck?

That appears to be the thinking behind a patent application filed by Amazon Technologies and published by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. The application, titled “Providing Services Related to Item Delivery via 3D Manufacturing on Demand,” describes a system for electronically taking an order, making it using 3D printing or similar manufacturing methods, and then immediately delivering it to the customer.

“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,” notes the application.
Ordered, made, delivered? (Image: Atomic Taco [CC BY-SA 2.0] via Flickr)
While Amazon’s filing doesn’t say 3D manufacturing would be done only on a truck, it does specifically give as an example providing products “using a 3D manufacturing apparatus located in a warehouse or on a truck owned by the service provider — and then delivered to the user according to delivery instructions provided by the user.”

How might this actually work? “A faucet handle breaks off while a person is cleaning up after dinner, making adjustment of the water pressure/temperature difficult,” notes the application. The person uses a smartphone to “access an electronic marketplace network page” (presumably, finds a replacement handle, places the order, and requests remote pick-up (perhaps at an Amazon Locker).

“Meanwhile, the computer systems retrieve a digital 3D model of the faucet handle from a database maintained by the original vendor of the faucet … The computer systems then convert the 3D model into printing instructions for a 3D printer,” continues the application. “The printing instructions are used to produce the faucet handle as a MOD [manufacturing-on-demand] item by a 3D printer located at a storage facility while the user is en route. The MOD item is picked up by the user and immediately installed to replace the broken faucet handle, thereby quickly resolving the faucet issue.”

And, theoretically, dinner is saved.

The mobile 3D manufacturing/delivery truck is described as one of three possible options. In addition to creating products at a warehouse or pick-up location, “the third delivery method involves producing the MOD item on an available 3D manufacturing apparatus located on a truck that can add the delivery to its present route,” such as a grocery delivery truck (presumably Amazon Fresh).

There’s no indication how far along Amazon is with this process. But there could have been much progress: While the PTO just published the application this month, it was actually filed in November, 2013. We’ve reached out to Amazon for a comment on the application, and will update this post if we hear back. (UPDATE 4:53pm: We’ve heard back, and Amazon has declined to comment.)

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