Last month, ProgrammableWeb caught up with Alessandro Usseglio Viretta of CR8 • CREATE who deployed the first 3D printing API on Mashape. Three-dimensional printing continues to dominate headlines and cause disruption. As we close 2013, PW followed up with Viretta to discuss his API and get some insight into an emerging technology that is bound to stir the waters in 2014.
First, Viretta addressed the basics. In response to why he created the API, Viretta explained:
"The engine on which the CR8 • CREATE API is based was initially developed to be used within the CR8 • CREATE e-commerce website solution, a sort of Shopify for 3D print shops. The front end of the e-commerce solution is a single-page application that communicates with the back end via a WebSocket-based API. I decided to develop a WebSocket API instead of a more traditional HTTP API because the processing of 3D model files can be fairly time-consuming and long-polling didn’t seem to me a good choice."
As PW readers know well, API strategies inevitably attract users and developers who not initially anticipated by the API creator. However, CR8 has specifically targeted 3D design marketplaces. The API enables these marketplaces to access metadata, manufacturability and additional information in real time, which allows marketplace users to select designs that meet immediate needs.
In addition, Viretta described how the API can be useful for 3D printing manufacturers and application developers:
"CR8 can make the life of the producers of 3D printers easier by taking care of part of the processing needed before a model can be printed. Using a web API instead of a desktop application also enables the development of 3D-printer specific web apps. Think of a Dropbox for 3D models, where all the model’s measures, print time, print costs and possible print-related issues are precomputed and displayed side-by-side with the 3D model."
CR8 has already launched the API at Mashape. It's marketed as the sole 3D printing API at the popular site, which should give it an edge, Viretta says. Viretta has also started a blog about the computational needs of 3D printing and is attracting potential users through Facebook, Linkedin and specialty websites such as 3ders.org. For those interested in 3D printing and APIs, Viretta provided the following example:
"One of our partners needs to process about 100,000 jewelry 3D models to compute their manufacturability on the most common 3D printers used to print metal jewels. Using a desktop application would require them to write a custom script (if it’s possible at all) and possibly employ a dedicated computer. CR8 can scale out as needed and process several files in parallel on high-performance servers, which is a clear advantage over a home-baked solution."
As the API economy continues to explode and rapidly adjust to new models and demands, the 3D printing industry is undergoing a similar growth spurt and the associated uncertainties. Accordingly, CR8 is hesitant to tie itself to a single set of metrics to measure success. Viretta explained:
"It's definitely a bit premature to think about business performance metrics, both because this API is pioneering the field and because new markets and applications for 3D printing are [constantly] growing and evolving. ... Developing software for 3D printing is a bit like shooting at a moving target."
For now, Cr8 is dedicated to lowering processing time. Viretta would like to increase processing speeds to the level that mainstream applications offer users. He explained:
"On the performance side, my goal to keep processing times very low. The online services offered by trailblazers like Shapeways and Netfabb, e-commerce and mesh repair respectively, are slow in comparison to most non-3D-print-related web apps and services, which negatively affects their user experience. Just imagine what would happen if Amazon's users [had] to wait minutes before their orders [were] sent. That's what happens now with Shapeways and that's what I'm going to fix by taking great care in keeping processing times low."
Viretta believes 3D printing will become mainstream, and Cr8 looks to be at the heart of that progression. He concluded:
"My goal is to make 3D printing become uninteresting, because that's the ultimate sign that it has successfully reached the mass markets. We never talk about how cool injection molding is. Likewise, 3D printing as such will eventually fade away, it will become yet another technology that changed our lives. To get to that point, we need to make the complexity of this technology disappear, just like the complexity of, for example, laser printing and copying has been made to disappear. In a sense, I'm working on the missing button for 3D printing."