Advanced Computing in the Age of AI|Friday, February 28, 2020
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APIs Enhance 3D Printing Experience 

Feature-rich Web services contribute to 3D printing's growing popularity.

3D printing, which creates objects that you can hold in your hand, sounds like the stuff of science fiction, or at least it did a few years ago. And while not quite commonplace, 3D printing is poised for take-off.

podAn additive manufacturing process, 3D printing works by laying down successive layers of material to create a three dimensional object. If you can design it, and if the printer is large enough, you can create a 3D model of almost anything. Although this technology was originally intended for industry, the actual uses are as varied as the imagination. Lost a chess piece? Print a new one. Create toys for your kids, abstract art pieces, jewelry, even candy. Most 3D printers deal in plastics, but the basic technology works for a wide range of materials, including metals, ceramics, wax, or edible items like chocolate.

Not surprisingly, due to their expense, the first batch of 3D printers were limited to a small pool of early adopters. But the technology is quickly becoming more accessible due to a combination of factors, as outlined in an article at ProgrammableWeb. 3D print companies like Makerbot Industries are lowering the barriers to entry by offering more affordable printer models and open-source design software. But there's another technology that's boosting the popularity of this technology: Web APIs. API stands for "application programming interface," and Web APIs support the exchange of information. Having deployed Web APIs, 3D printer companies Shapeways, CloudFab and Thingverse can now provide users with design, print and sharing services through their browser interface.

Makerbot representative Marty McGuire highlights the benefits:

"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."

Shapeway's Ben Horst has also identified the growing role of APIs:

"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."

With their power to enable a virtual sandbox of resources with the potential for productive collaboration, APIs are helping 3D printing evolve and grow, and according to author Kin Lane, they "have serious potential for re-defining the global manufacturing landscape."

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