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UPS Hearts 3-D Printing

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A chicken in every pot, a car in every garage, and a 3-D printer in every home office. We may have achieved the first two already several times over, but don't discount the last one. There might be a few years to go before that's a reality, but make no mistake, it is coming, but in the meantime, we may have to simply settle for 3-D printing services on every corner.

The 3-D printing revolution is expanding far more rapidly than many analysts suspected, and while the $1,000 price-point barrier will speed up the democratization of this technological advance, giving people the chance to test the concept out before buying will kick-start the movement. That's why Staples' decision earlier this year to begin offering 3-D printing services at its stores through its partnership with Mcor Technologies was huge. It brings the technology within reach of the masses.

And now the concept is proliferating further. UPS (NYSE: UPS  ) just announced that it, too, would start offering consumer and commercial 3-D printing services through its franchised UPS Store chain. It will offer Stratasys' (NASDAQ: SSYS  ) uPrint SE Plus printers, which start at $15,900, and can produce items like engineering parts, functional prototypes, acting props, architectural models, and fixtures for cameras, lights, and cables.

Source: Stratasys

Although it's starting out small -- with a test run in just six of its San Diego shops -- UPS has some 4,700 independently owned and operated locations nationwide, and hopes to rollout the service nationally soon. Similarly, with around 1,500 stores in North America, Staples' footprint is substantial in bringing 3-D printing services closer to the average person.

Where Stratasys has focused its efforts on expanding the commercial market, rival 3D Systems has concentrated on the consumer market, and makes a model that goes for around $1,000. It's been noted previously that when Hewlett-Packard crossed that pricing threshold with inkjet printers, it marked the moment when their sales went stratospheric.

Analysts expect 3-D printing to grow into a $3 billion industry by 2016, and expand to almost $7 billion by 2019, with parts production accounting for 80% of industry revenues. General Electric has estimated up to half the parts in its wind turbines and engines could be 3-D printed over the course of the next decade, while Boeing already produces  tens of thousands of 3-D printed parts for its military customers.

With 3-D printers poised to become as ubiquitous as the inkjet, UPS could deliver a major boost to the industry -- one that's as satisfying as a bowl of chicken soup for the portfolio.

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