A Universal OS for 3D Printers. Is it possible?
Andrew Wheeler posted on August 29, 2014 |

It's not uncommon for university labs and development teams for commercial products to have multiple 3D printers.  The downside is that each printer uses a proprietary or unnecessarily complex software.  If you are ordering a new 3D printer, it may come with yet another operating system to learn.  This adds time and complexity to the printing process. 

Here's another issue.  Let's say you want to test different properties of your design by printing it in different materials on multiple 3d printers.  If you can't physically stay near the printers during the prints, how can you remotely monitor them?

Compare these scenarios to printing on paper.  When I am done typing this document, I can print it on a wide variety of printers on any floor of my building using the same software.  If I send a docx file to you, you could open up Microsoft Windows, click on Word in the Office Suite and open it.  From there, it is easy to load a document file and print.  It doesn't matter which brand printer you are using, though there are hundreds and hundreds of printers to choose from.   What if the same were true for 3D printers? 

3D Control Systems, a San Francisco based startup, aims to solve these problems with their new open operating system called 3DPrinterOS.  Within one year the team at 3D Control Systems plans to expand driver support to over 90% of 3D printers currently on the market (see the current list of printers). 3DPrinterOS is an ongoing attempt to make "one-click 3D printing" a reality for anyone using any machine. 

That is certainly an ambitious vision, but the team has some impressive credentials to make it come true.  The CEO is John Dogru, former lead engineer for Dell while CTO Anton Vedeshin is a PhD candidate in cloud computing and cyber security. They've secured seed-round funding from Paul Allen's Vulcan Capital, Ex-Docusign CEO Steve King and other private investors.   

If the driver is supported, then you can manage an unlimited amount of printers.  The team behind 3DPrinterOS is also working on becoming the first system to allow a single user to monitor desktop and professional grade 3D printers from one single standardized cloud platform.  This is what it will look like.

Imagine what a universal OS would do for a university's digital fabrication lab.  In the introduction to 3D Modeling Design class, students could upload a finished file to the school's secure cloud.  The printers, theoretically could be almost anywhere.  The printing environment lab could even be fragmented physically, but digitally it would be manageable and all in one spot. 

Using the current 3DPrinterOS, an administrator can manage users and monitor driver supported printers, while others in any location can send designs to the cloud queue.  The company also offers software that will let users connect their USB cameras to their cloud platform for remote monitoring. 

Hypothetically speaking, let's imagine that five years from now, 3D printers are printing 50 times faster and are as reliable as today's inkjet printers.  They are far more affordable, and as a result makerspaces and digital fabrication labs have popped up at every major university and community center in your area. 

You walk into a digital fabrication lab and there are dozens of 3d printers, from dozens of different companies.  Some are industrial 3D printers and some are desktop 3D printers.  They are all printing different objects from different people, at the same time.  Yet there are only a few people in the lab.  The majority are finishing and sorting these 3D printed objects onto shelves for pick up, or into packages for delivery.  Off in the corner, just one person is monitoring a stream of unique CAD files that are constantly uploaded to the secure 3D printing cloud.

Perhaps five years is an optimistic appraisal for this future scenario.  But the only elements that do not exist in this imagined digital fabrication lab are 3D printers that print 50 times faster and more reliably than today's machines. 

To learn more about 3DPrinterOS, click here.

About Andrew Wheeler - A technology enthusiast with a penchant for 3D printing, Andrew graduated from SUNY Empire State College with a degree in Information Technology. He studied Creative Writing at New York University, and is working a documentary and accompanying publication about 3D printing.

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