United Parcel Service said Wednesday that it will test a consumer and small-business 3-D printing service through its franchised UPS Store chain and that it will use a printer from Stratasys of Eden Prairie.
For the test, UPS chose the Stratasys uPrint SE Plus printer, which starts at about $16,000. The printer should be able to produce engineering parts, functional prototypes, acting props, architectural models, and fixtures for cameras, lights and cables, UPS said.
3-D printers are a hot technology that hold out the promise of revolutionizing the manufacture of some everyday objects — such as coffee pots, machine parts and, to the dismay of some, guns — by personal devices that print physical objects by layering deposits of sprayed material.
The UPS test "represents another example of how 3-D printing is being evaluated as a mainstream process within product development and manufacturing," said Shane Glenn, Stratasys vice president of investor relations.
UPS said its franchised UPS Stores will be the first nationwide retailer to test a 3-D printing service. It expects to serve start-ups, small businesses and retail customers.
There are 4,300 UPS Store locations. The first to offer 3-D printing will be in the San Diego area, although the exact date wasn't announced.
UPS said in a statement that the 3-D printing service will be added to stores "in additional cities across the United States in the near future."
Stratasys has dual headquarters in Eden Prairie and in Rehovat, Israel.
In June, it acquired desktop 3-D printer firm MakerBot for $403 million in an effort to expand its market.
The 'prosumer' market
The UPS Store test is the latest in a string of news media reports about 3-D printing in the last few months.
Some have been controversial, such as stories during the congressional gun-control debate about using a 3-D printer to make a gun.
Others have been about a consolidation in the 3-D printer market, as exemplified by the Stratasys acquisition of MakerBot, whose lower-cost 3-D printers can be used to make machine parts or any of 36,000 other downloadable product designs for the "prosumer market," which is partly consumer and partly business.
The prosumer market, where printer prices range from $2,000 to $3,000, represented a new opportunity for Stratasys, which had focused on corporate machines for making product prototypes that cost $10,000 to $600,000.
Consumer products being made today with 3-D printers include jewelry, clothing, toys and prosthetic limbs.
The 3-D printing process is part of a broader market, sometimes called "additive manufacturing," that has sales of $2.2 billion a year, according to a 2013 report prepared by Wohlers Associates, an industry consulting group in Fort Collins, Colo.
The publicity about 3-D printing has raised the public profile of Stratasys Ltd., which manufactures both 3-D printers and the materials they spray to create product prototypes and models.
The company was formed through the Dec. 3, 2012, merger of Stratasys Inc. and Objet Ltd., a similar firm based in Rehovot, Israel. Revenue for the two companies, calculated as if they had been combined at the start of 2012, rose 29.6 percent to $359.1 million and earnings per share grew 59.1 percent to $1.49 per share.