March 23, 2014

3D Printing as a Software Problem

A few weeks ago, two articles in 3d printing caught my eye. Both writers talked about how they wish their 3d printer was better. Upon closer read, I realized that a lot of their points were related to the software used to power 3d printers, not feedback around the actual 3d printers.

Eduardas Afanasjevas write about 3 ways to make Ultimaker better. The interesting thing is that all of his suggestions is based around software improvements, not necessarily machine improvements. It’s about how to slice files smartly and model validation—software.

The next day, I saw an article in Slate about the new Solidoodle 4. The article complained about a few different issues with his Solidoodle, but again, a lot of his gripes had to do with software, not with the actual machine itself (though to be fair, a lot of problems were with hardware). Most importantly, he made a comment about the lack of files available online to print—quality model repositories are software products.

Another need that I personally have is for the toolchain to be simplified. Currently, I find base files on Thingiverse, tweak or model from scratch in Blender, fix files with NetFabb, slice with Simplify3D, and send files to printer with OctoPrint. I would love to combine all of the above into one product. And all of the above are all software.

There are a lot of new 3d printer companies cropping up—most of them make 3d printers. And don’t get me wrong, there’s a lot of improvements that need to happen with the hardware (mostly around reliability). But given the amount of issues that are software related, I am a bit surprised I haven’t seen as many 3d printing companies focused around software.

It makes me wonder about opportunities here for Mixee Labs to get involved, and what that would look like. Right now, we focus more on making creators or product templates for industrial printers, but perhaps we can apply our knowledge to the world of desktop printing as well.