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How Shapeways’ Software Enables 3D Printing at Scale

While most news about the 3D printing industry focuses on advancement in hardware and materials, software has played a crucial role in the democratization of 3D printing. Companies like Shapeways have delivered software to generate 3D files, prepare and optimize them for printing, and manufacture and distribute.

This article was written by Matt Boyle, VP of Architecture at Shapeways, for Stack Overflow. See the full blog post here

A decade or two ago, getting a custom part manufactured required you to have your own workshop or to make a visit to a factory floor. Today, you can create your own 3D model, upload it to a website, and have a functional product delivered to your door within a few days—a turn around time unimaginable just 20 years ago.

While most news about the 3D printing industry focuses on advancement in hardware and materials, software has played a crucial role in the democratization of 3D printing. Companies like Shapeways have delivered software to generate 3D files, prepare and optimize them for printing, and manufacture and distribute.

Shapeways’ primary technology offerings can split into two categories—the ability to upload, repair, price, and purchase 3D models in a variety of materials, and back-end systems driving the manufacturing, distribution, and fulfillment of our orders at a global scale. I’m going to discuss three distinct pieces of software that occur in separate steps in the buying process: one that help customers upload designs and make purchases: Model Processing; one that securely shows the customer the final printable model: ShapeJS; and one that helps us manufacture, distribute, and fulfill those design purchases: Inshape.

Processing customer models

Our first contact with a customer’s order is when they upload a 3D model. We have no control over the quality and printability of the model, so our software repairs errors during model generation where it can and analyzes their printability in a wide variety of materials. This is a very compute-heavy process—we calculate the model surface area and volume, determine the number of parts that the model is composed of, and examine the model for errors and attempt to repair them, all within a mean time of 25 seconds.

In order to deliver these results, we needed to build a system that leverages parallelism and provides easy scalability to handle fluctuations in load without breaking our SLA. To start, we decided to build individual services that are each responsible for evaluating different components of printability. These services fall into three categories: model validation, model pricing calculation, and model repair.

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