Amazon apply for “3D printer in a van” patent

By Chris Dawson February 25, 2015 - 12:00 pm

Amazon can already delivery goods to you tomorrow, in fact if you order early enough in the day you have have your purchase today, so what’s next? They’ve just put in a patent to manufacture goods in the back of a van with a 3D printer as it’s en route to you.

The idea is that when you place an order it doesn’t matter where the goods are because they won’t yet exist. You’ll buy, Amazon will purchase a 3D print design from a supplier. A local van will have a 3D printer in the back and will print your purchase and be able to deliver it straight to your door.
Amazon 3D printing in a van
The thinking behind the printer in a van idea is that it’ll save warehouse costs and get products into the hands of buyers faster than ever before. They state in the patent that “An electronic marketplace may also face the challenge of time delays related to the process of the finding the selected item amoung a large inventory…. and find it desirable to decrease the amount of warehouse or inventory storage space needed, to reduce the amount of time consumed between receiving the order and delivering the item to the customer, or both.

Of course there are only certain products that lend themselves to 3D printing and even if they are suitable the results are not always perfect as these engineering students discovered at their press conference. However on the plus side as they recover their pitch, if a part does break you could always get another one printed and in a few year’s time it might be from a mobile manufacturing process in the back of an Amazon delivery van.

  • james
    3 years ago

    i like the idea, but i dont think its patentable.

    • fusion
      3 years ago

      True, hard to see how they can paten the idea of driving a 3d printer around.

    • Rai
      3 years ago

      The tech company patent wars are a lesson to everyone – nearly anything no matter how mundane is patentable with the right wording and enough money.

    • cunningmunki
      3 years ago

      I’m afraid it probably is, that’s what’s so messed up about patient laws.

  • Mark_H
    3 years ago

    I would have thought that since 3D printers are expensive (for high quality ones) it would make more sense to have them located inside buildings with standard vans used for delivery. In this way the printer can be operating continuously rather than having to be shut down for travelling.

    They will need a base for the van to collect supplies, carry out maintenance and park overnight so they will not get away without some form of warehouse.

    I can see the copyshop business model being used for 3D printing as prices go down, there will be a number of small scale shop unit sized businesses competing for orders.

    • 3 years ago

      I get the small scale copyshop businesses, but their big disadvantage will be the major time to print an item is designing it and the print program. I can see them having some success with small scale personalised items, but not so much with the “I need a 10″ wrench” or “Can you print me out a bicycle with a 15″ frame”.

      Where Amazon will win will be the multiple designers who will sell through Amazon giving greater selection for the consumer of off the shelf (or out of the printer!) items.

      It’ll be interesting to see which wins out…

    • Mark_H
      3 years ago

      If you want to make a poster the majority of the time will be spent designing it, the printing process will be quick.

      My main doubts regarding the Amazon proposals was the fitting of the printer in the back of a van which I think would add a lot to the cost of the service and add too many limitations.

      Since Amazon is opening some city distribution hubs which allow fast delivery ( ) it would make sense to fit these with 3D and book printers to offer a fast service. This would be more efficient than the van mounted printers.

  • 3 years ago

    I have had no experience at all with 3D Printers. But how robust are they?

    Just imagine a 3D Printer in the back of a White Van hurtling around the roads of the UK bouncing from PotHole to Pothole. In my Village we have a chicane and many White Van Drivers(and indeed many others) almost take it as a matter of honour to clip the kerb on each side of the road as they try to emulate a Formula I racing driver when taking that chicane.

    The White Van with the installed 3D Printer gets to your front door ready to produce your Left Handed Bottle Opener or whatever. The Van Driver presses the start button… and nothing. The combination of Pot Holed Roads and abysmal driving skills have broken the machine. Or perhaps even worse it does work but what comes out of it is not what you expected because it has been so jumbled up inside that the 3D Printer now needs a total overhaul.

    • 3 years ago

      If NASA can get a 3D printer up to the International Space Centre strapped to the back of a rocket, surely Amazon could secure one in the back of a truck… or maybe not 😀

    • Gary
      3 years ago

      Was that ISS 3D printer shipped by Amazon Prime?

  • cfb
    3 years ago

    The real question is whether the van is down by the river or not.

  • Paul
    3 years ago

    If I were Amazon I’d be getting behind the development and manufacture of the 3D printers themselves, and stop messing about with gimmicky smartphones that no one wants and pointless ideas like this. Within 10 years all homes will have a 3D printer, so they have an opportunity now to make it an Amazon branded printer.

    Mind you, they’ve probably already got one in the works.

  • james
    3 years ago

    the patent is not to turn up with a printer in the van then park up and do the printing. the benefit only comes when you print en-route.

    there are no warehouses, just raw material stores. the van is loaded with raw plastic, and spits out consumer goods as it drives to the consumer who ordered them.
    – i say van, but i dont think the patent did.

    apply the theory to a drone instead, it doesnt need to return to a central warehouse, just a landing pad nearby to top up on raw materials.
    one per town should be enough to cover demand, several for cities.

    potholes stop being an issue.
    it doesnt need to carry a lot.
    materials are light.
    end products are small.

    in fact, amazons drones dont really make much sense until you turn them into 3-d printers.

    all that said – i suspect this is an advertising gimmick, just like the drones.

    • james
      3 years ago

      also, i think we’re looking in the wrong place.
      – the patent is an extension to a previous application, just adding the in-transit part to a previous patent for 3-d printing.

      – i think the actual patent applies to the ordering process involved – Amazon being a first and third party in this set-up.

      – they’re not trying to patent in-transit printing as far as i can see.

      you order a 3-d design from amazon.
      amazon didnt design it, so they seek permission from the designmaker.
      amazon then do the printing.
      the designmaker gets his cut.

      its basically an extension of FBA, removing the physical goods from supplier to amazon, and instead emailing over 3D blueprints, the concept is otherwise the same.

  • Steve
    3 years ago

    Ha Ha, now this is a dumb idea.

    Can you Patent something like this? I think not but if you can then that patent would be difficult to protect and offer little security. And besides, the range of items a 3D printer can produce is very limited and the technology is still quite young and fairly expensive. But thats not to say this idea won’t eventually work sometime in the future, I just think its going to be some years before it’s viable – and it will probably require an intelligent delivery driver which is essentially a contradiction in terms!

    IMO this is a publicity gimmick like the drone delivery idea. I wonder what their next brainwave will be?

    Long live The Revolution!! 🙂

  • Dan
    3 years ago

    i think to say in 10 years every home will have one is a stretch.

    i cant see it becoming that mainstream in homes, not ever, maybe very local and on every high street but not in every home.

    after all, if we need flyers printing, we all have printers capable of doing that, most of us go to a business where scale becomes cheaper.

    same idea as most of my photographer friends / contacts, they have printers which CAN do photos, but all of them send their photos off to be produced by companies.

    we will not be paying for the digital “design” and then letting our own printer print it as and when we need it.
    stock already made, and shipped to us, is under no threat.

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