3D Printing and cloud marriage: A match made in heaven?

We all know about the two big trends: 3D Printing and the cloud computing. My argument in this writeup is that they are two trends which will accelerate mutual adoption.

What is 3D Printing?

3D Printing is an additive manufacturing technology process. Simply put, instead of taking a marble rock and chiseling it to make a statue (subtractive manufacturing) you can add layer-wise marble particles according to the shape and form of the statue (additive manufacturing).

Intrinsically, 3D printing (or rather additive manufacturing) results in better resource utilization, lesser wastage and higher accuracy of complex forms and structures.

What is cloud computing?

Cloud computing is a processing architecture in which data manipulation, storage and processing is done on the remotely connected servers through online access via a web-app, mobile app or so on. In other words, think of it as a Chrome OS system type of computer architecture (ChromeOS Introduction ).



Following are the synergies creating on deploying the two together:

  • Remote distributed manufacturing: The vision to scan, access, edit, download and print from anywhere to anywhere can only be realized if all the 3D Printers are connected and can be accessed through internet (read IoT: Internet of Things). Due to increasing data requirements as design complexity of parts increase, one requires high performance real-time access to a powerful public cloud. Therefore, a powerful cloud forms the information/design to print backbone for the 3D printers.
  • Distributed big-data analytics for part print optimization: Different 3D Printers connected to the cloud can measure the “3D Printed Part Performance” through advanced visual image processing to reconstruct the printed part and compare it with the original scan for comparison. More importantly, the data and information collected during troubleshooting and how the errors come to be created in 3D Printing can be added in real-time in the cloud, thus, enhancing the model prediction of probabilities of error occurrence in a given printer under given settings and given design complexity. Based on such model prediction and big data heuristics, the 3D Printers in future would automatically optimize print settings for achieving higher fidelity printed parts.
  • Prescriptive analytics for in-print automated correction: Where I see the cloud really changing the game for 3D Printing is not only to optimize before print settings but also direct course corrections by predicting in real time through the current layer build-up profile and recognizing any deviations (due to external factors). Prescriptive analytics algorithms running in the cloud accessing such print profiles and model heuristics based on all relevant available data will eventually lead to 3D Printing machines auto-correcting themselves and even changing print settings while printing. What will prescriptive analytics algorithms in the cloud do? Introduce 6-sigma efficiencies in automated distributed and remotely “commanded” 3D Printing process.


Prosumer Economics?

I believe that there is inherently an interconnection between these two technologies as they disrupt the traditional supply chains in terms of materials and information. Combining both bits and atoms in a totally modular intelligent networked model can yield us a complete alternative to our vision of teleporting.

The creator, producer, consumer and recycler roles can be played by anyone and will be played by everyone as the back-bone of cloud connectivity puts the more customized and utility-focused object creation and “printed” at the destination needed, with the needs of destination prescribed without the need to predict what they might be. As prosumer economies with the trends of collaborative consumption and production become the norm, the 3D Printing and cloud computing will ride on each other’s back.


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