Design

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Royal Mail discover the third dimension

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Royal Mail appear to have noticed that 3D printing is quite a big deal at the moment, and have jumped on the bandwagon with a new scheme that will allow customers to order 3D printed items directly from the company's Central London delivery offices on New Cavendish Street. Initially a pilot scheme targeting small businesses, Royal Mail's 3D printing service has been made possible due to a partnership with iMakr, the London-based 3D printing specialists. Products will be printed off at the office and can then either be collected or posted to customers.

Royal Mail 3D Printing Time-lapse

The first iMakr store launched in April 2013 in Clerkenwell, Central London and in 2014 it opened a second shop in New York. The company also runs MyMiniFactory, an online catalogue of existing 3D models which can also be printed using Royal Mail's service.

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Royal Mail's 3D printing service has been made possible due to a partnership with iMakr

The scheme kicked off yesterday (8 December) and currently allows customers to choose from a range of 3D printed products such as a postage stamp fridge magnet postbox pencil pot and a (quite elaborate and surprisingly expensive) wine cooler. Most excitingly though, it also allows users to submit their own designs, which could prove a major selling point for small businesses and consumers who covet a 3D printer, but cannot afford one. In fact, though 3D printing is a market sector very much on the increase, it's been suggested that by 2018 only 2.3 million printers will have been sold, with most of those models used by large industrial firms for prototyping purposes.

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By 2018 only 2.3 million printers will have been sold

Of course, personally designed items will be significantly more expensive to produce, and creating the design would involve collaborating with a professional 3D printing designer to create a compatible STL file. Basically, you won't just be able to take a picture of your proposed item, or make a crude doodle and expect them to do all the work for you.

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3D printing is an emerging technology that has many applications” Mike Newnham

Mike Newnham, chief customer office at Royal Mail, believes that “3D printing is an emerging technology that has many applications and offers an innovative way to create unique or personalised objects.” He adds, however, that “It can be prohibitively expensive for consumers or small businesses to invest in a 3D printer,” which is why the Royal Mail scheme is such a solid idea. The pilot scheme will be gauging public interest in 3D printing, so if the idea takes off, expect to see 3D printers popping up in post offices across the country in the near future!

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Last month, Royal Mail began working with Amazon's “Click & Collect” points service

iMakr is not the only major digital partnership Royal Mail has formed in recent months. Last month they began working with Amazon's “Click & Collect” points service, which offers Amazon's customers the option of collecting their parcels from one of Royal Mail's 10,500 Local Collect points across the UK. With Christmas on the horizon, and parcels having a tendency to be delivered when you're either out of the house or on the toiler 99% of the time, the idea is quite a godsend, and is just one of the many strategies (along with the 3D printing initiative) the company is experimenting with to bring the Royal Mail into the 21st Century.

Benjamin Hiorns is a freelance writer and struggling musician from Kidderminster in the UK. His mate owns a 3D printer and has thus far been unable to print off anything more complicated than a pair of swimming goggles. Still, watching it in action is surprisingly absorbing.

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