The Role of APIs in 3D Printing and Manufacturing

With the introduction of low cost 3D printers like Makerbot, 3D printing has exploded in areas ranging from art to architecture. This increase in popularity of 3D printers, and 3D modeling software like SketchUp is democratizing manufacturing and making 3D printing accessible by the masses.

In addition to the cost, another key technology that is fueling growth in 3D printing and manufacturing are web APIs. 3D printers like Shapeways, CloudFab and Thingverse have all deployed APIs, and Google Cloud Print Services Interface is also poised to offer 3D print job distribution using the Google Apps Platform.

Major players in the industry see a big role for APIs in fueling growth in 3D printing and manufacturing, Makerbot’s Marty McGuire says:

“Feature-rich, open APIs are going to be critical to the future of 3D printing. We believe that APIs will allow people to share, print, remix, and re-share models quickly and seamlessly - across platforms modeling programs - and will lead to all new kinds of collaboration and innovation in 3D printing. “

This type of innovation goes beyond 3D printing, as demonstrated with Maker Faire, an amazing showcase of creativity and cool technology that celebrates the DIY mindset happening in the bay area.

Web APIs facilitate this DIY mindset as Shapeway’s Ben Horst adds:

“Shapeways wants to enable as many people as possible to make and create whatever they want, using digital manufacturing. It is instrumental to have very easy to use and understand tools to enable as many people as possible. The API enables existing (such as plugins for Sketchup, Blender, Solidworks) and new tool developers, to easily plug into Shapeways and further help making the experience as much fun as possible.“

And CloudFab’s Josh Albrecht says:

“Our grand vision is for an API that can be used for production for more than just 3D printing...There is a notion of a "Creator", which is a parameterized script for making products. See the examples on the website (like the Ring Creator and Wood Creator). That sort of thing will also be possible through the API--for example, if you wanted to write your own Front-end for a Creator that made action figures by selecting what body parts to use, you could do the whole front end yourself, and just use us to put the final design together and print it, with an optional 3D preview for the user. “

Current 3D Printers are using web APIs for importing, exporting and the general portability of 3D Modeling files. They are also enabling users to build custom 3D Models through variable data and dynamically assembling from 3D parts and pieces.

I’ve used Google Apps, Google Cloud Print API, and Mimeo Connect Print API (where I work as API Evangelist) to build real-time commercial cloud printing systems, and see potential for the same model to be applied to 3D printing and manufacturing.

Like in cloud printing, web APIs will become key for exchanging information. This could include 3D designers' profiles, 3D printer capabilities, 3D model distribution, and consumer purchasing -- all printed globally or locally.

3D printing, with the help of web APIs are moving beyond hobby and art, and have serious potential for re-defining the global manufacturing landscape.

Photo by Tom Taylor

Be sure to read the next Printing article: 40 Printing APIs: Google, KODAK and Shutterfly