AutoDesk Shows How APIs Help Transform Personalized Manufacturing

Mark Boyd
Jun. 24 2014, 01:45PM EDT

Partnerships emerging between 3-D modeling software provider Autodesk and users of its ReCap API reveal how manufacturing is well on its way to becoming yet another industry facing major disruption. Previous large industrial manufacturing projects are being customized to individual needs without the production volumes necessary to gain economies of scale. And APIs are at the core of enabling this transformation. ProgrammableWeb spoke with Dominique Pouliquen, director of Autodesk’s reality solutions group, and Lex van der Sluijs, co-founder of twnkls, a full-service augmented reality agency.

“With ReCap, we offer reality capture for laser scanning, specifically telemetry, turning photos into 3-D models using cloud computing,” says Pouliquen. “We have developed our own web services such as ReCap 360, but we have also developed an API for third-party developers who can develop their own applications.

autodesk

ABOVE: Some of the features of the ReCap product described by Autodesk

“The API is really about being able to embed photos into 3-D using the cloud," he says. "Third-party developers can create an application for desktop, mobile or iPad app, so users can upload photos to the cloud and get back a 3-D model.”

Medical Technology Use Cases

Pouliquen points to several use cases that existing API partners are pursuing. He is excited by partner SoundFit, which uses the API technology to create custom earpieces for audiology medical services, as well as for recreational and professional use (in gaming and tactical radio, for example). Pouliquen also says ReCap’s 3-D photo quality is ideal for medical technologists wanting to build customized prosthetic devices.

It is across these industries — civil engineering and medical technologies — where APIs from 3-D services companies like Autodesk are set to have a major impact.

Civil Engineering Use Cases

Pouliquen also mentions Skycatch, which uses unmanned air vehicles (drones) to take pictures of landscapes and uses the ReCap to create 3-D models: “Skycatch are using drones on construction sites. The idea is to fly the drones to capture the images and then create the 3-D models to track construction progress over time.”

Twnkls' co-founder van der Sluijs began using the ReCap API after asking some questions in the Autodesk developer forum. Now the company has created an iPad application for its civil engineering clients. “We have developed an iPad application that is taking measurements for objects that are quite complex to construct," he says. "We have been able to combine the construction capability that we have and have been able to create almost-perfect reconstructions every time using the ReCap API.”

Van der Sluijs explains the workflow:

Once photos are taken and the user is satisfied with the feedback, they are uploaded to a hosted server, and on that same server we have a service that communicates with the ReCap API. Then an additional file is created to facilitate the stitching process, and it also contains the registration information so that the construction is perfectly upright and at the actual scale, not anything arbitrary. Then we issue a command to ReCap to start up the reconstruction. We automatically notify our client when that it is completed, and they then load it into their CAD system. Then they can decide to make 3-D prints out of it and prepare for the real engineering work that lies ahead.

One of the current use cases from twnkls is an application that helps manufacturers of tailor made objects and installations: “There are many real-world shapes and objects that require a lot of skill to measure by hand," van der Sluijs says. "The ReCap technology together with our augmented reality software simplifies these tasks to the point that almost anybody can perform them.” 

Van der Sluijs tried a range of open source tools for 3-D modeling and believes that “based on some initial tests, it was 10 times better than other photo modeling software.”

Moves this year suggest that major 3-D players are squaring up to explode the personalized manufacturing industry. Another major player, 3D Systems, bought Medical Modeling in early April for $17.5 million and by the end of May was ranked No. 3 in Bloomberg’s 10 Shares to Watch (beating out McDonald's and Michael Kors), in part because of its capital-raising efforts. The company wants to make more acquisitions and consolidate the 3-D-modeling-for-personalized-manufacturing sector.

Tools like Autodesk’s ReCap API will be at the heart of making this industry transformation a reality.

Mark Boyd is a ProgrammableWeb writer covering breaking news, API business strategies and models, open data, and smart cities. I can be contacted via email, on Twitter, or on Google+.

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