A Fast-Growing Startup Partners with a Behemoth
The halls of the newly-opened, Chicago headquarters of Fast Radius are abuzz with optimism for the additive manufacturing company’s future. Fast Radius, a leading 3-D printing and manufacturing technology startup, has quickly become one of the leading firms offering what they call “manufacturing solutions for an increasingly digital supply chain”.  On-top of its technological prowess – backed by over $15MM in venture funding  – the firm also has an interesting partner as it moves forward to not only produce effectively for customers, but also provide unparalleled speed in delivery. That partner is logistics and supply chain behemoth UPS.
Through this partnership, the two companies, with third partner SAP, are trying to make additive manufacturing more mainstream than ever before by taking a concept from idea to the customer’s doorstep in as quick as a day. 
UPS has teamed-up with Fast Radius because of the great potential they see in additive manufacturing. UPS sees the industry growing over 50% to $21B in 2020 and wants to be a part of this transformation in manufacturing activity . As it views its unique global position as a leader in supply chain logistics, UPS sees this foray into additive manufacturing through partnership with Fast Radius as a way to offer an additional service to its customers and potential opportunity to become the primary shipping firm for a number of innovative companies early on the adoption curve of additive manufacturing.
This megatrend of additive manufacturing is important to UPS and Fast Radius because it allows them to differentiate their partnership by bringing their respective expertise to the table to serve customers. Fast Radius provides the technological edge to additive manufacturing, and UPS provides unparalleled logistics and quick delivery to companies looking to prototype or get product quickly.
As is seen below, firms leveraging additive manufacturing tend to prioritize getting to market quickly or prototyping.
This partnership between UPS and Fast Radius is allowing companies to prototype without having to put-out significant initial capital outlays for machinery, which is a common issue with adoption of additive manufacturing in firms. 
While the initial capital outlays are an issue for these companies trying to use additive manufacturing, there also is an inherent issue in being able to get a quick turnaround from concept-to-production if they were planning to traditionally outsource their production. The real power of this partnership, and what UPS and Fast Radius are working on in the shorter-term, is to mimic a system of “distributed production on-demand” by leveraging UPS’s shipping and logistics expertise. This will allow for companies to produce inventory and get it to locations in a more just-in-time fashion than ever before. 
While a larger firm flush with resources may be able to set-up 3-D printing facilities, UPS and Fast Radius are making a bet that they can produce and ship prototypes, parts, or other inventory quickly and efficiently to solve this issue of distributed production on demand. We see below the cycle of supply chain challenges companies face that UPS and Fast Radius are trying to tackle:
Longer term challenges for UPS and Fast Radius will primarily revolve around building up technical capacity and being able to produce at larger scale. To tackle this, Fast Radius has partnered with leading 3-D printing technology company Carbon to use their Speedcell technology . This technology will allow them to produce more quickly than ever and at greater volume than ever, with Fast Radius co-founder Rick Smith stating “Fast Radius and UPS believe that the introduction of Carbon’s technologies marks a historic point when additive manufacturing truly becomes a production alternative.” 
With their budding partnership and early adoption of Carbon’s Speedcell technology, UPS and Fast Radius appear poised for success in bringing additive manufacturing to small/mid-size companies and making it more mainstream today than it has ever been in the past. One recommendation to the management team responsible for this partnership would be to consider further co-location of 3-D printing facilities. Currently, sites are located in the Midwest (Chicago and Louisville) which provide a central location in the US, but may also prove costlier to ship to the coasts than if there were sites in, say, California and North Carolina as well.
In researching these firms, I’m very excited about the value proposition they present in the short and medium term to small companies looking for efficient, quick-feedback loop on prototypes and other small-batch part production. The question that remains in my mind is, will companies ever use a service like this to produce at scale or are the benefits to additive manufacturing, like the MIT Management review suggests in its “three myths about 3-D printing” , likely to stay in their current nice-role for the foreseeable future?
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