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3D Printing + Cloud = the perfect combination

3D Printing + Cloud = the perfect combination

Businessman working with a Cloud Computing diagram on the new coWhile the concept of 3D printing has been around since the 1970’s, it has only been in recent years the technology has flourished, both commercially and in the consumer market. Large companies and universities adopted the technology mainly for rapid prototyping and research purposes. Today, the number of companies and schools using commercial 3D printers is growing quickly and the printers are being used for rapid prototyping, rapid manufacturing and mass customization.

In fact, commercial 3D printing is currently being used in engineering, the medical and dental industry, fashion, footwear, eyewear, jewelry, military, education and more. The printers use various technologies and print in a variety of materials including ABS plastic, sandstone-like materials, UV cured resins, nylon, and alloys like gold, silver, stainless steel and titanium. Scientists are actually now experimenting with bio-printing, which is 3D printing with living cells.

But the spark that will give 3D Printing technology the chance to break through the mainstream isn’t software, but another piece of highly disruptive technology – the cloud. Currently, there are many companies that are offering 3D Printing services via the Cloud.

What does 3D Cloud Printing exactly do?

Imagine if instead of businesses manufacturing parts or products in their factories in bulk and selling it to consumers, consumers can instead just buy parts of products per piece through a company that will create a single one through 3D Printing? Also, what if a person could actually design and render his own item, using tools and computing power leased by a service provider, have it printed and delivered? That’s basically 3D Printing through the cloud, or at least the idealized version of it.

The main process, at least in Sculpteo’s model, is for users to upload their ideas to be sculpted using the company’s proprietary cloud-based application. This way, 3D printing becomes so accessible that even people who only have access to a decent smartphone or tablet can have their ideas realized through a cloud-based 3D printing service. Additionally, the company can also offer the services to other companies, giving companies 3D modeling capabilities even without the necessary infrastructure in place.

3D Printers go Cloud

As young as the technology is, cloud-based 3D printing services are already available. There are several 3D printer manufacturers in the world, and MakerBot is one of them, with units that go for approximately $2,000. It’s not a bad investment for organizations that often need prototypes for their products, like car manufacturers. However, the cost could prove too much for small businesses or new entrepreneurs that simply need to prototype their vision.

Shapeways has an online 3D printing service with a different approach. They have a network of people that own 3D printers in different parts of the world. So people who want their product printed can submit their design and their address and be able to access someone who is near him/her and has a 3D printer. The result is faster turn-around time and lower cost for delivery and insurance.

I personally believe the future of cloud and 3D Printing is bright, and this perfect combination may do for manufacturing what Paypal did for online payments in the past – make it more accessible and viable to mainstream users.

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