Whether you use professional 3D printing machines or more commercial desktop units, every user has some issues with getting the designed part to print correctly. Part of the problem is the software used to convert a design into 3D printable slices.
Recently, entrepreneurs John Dogru, CEO/Co-founder, and Anton, CTO/Co-founder, 3DprinterOS, developed an interesting approach that may help solve this problem. They have developed an operating system specific to 3D printing. Like the Apple or Microsoft operating systems, this basic program directs any commercial 3D printer to do more of the tasks users used to handle.
Recently, I had a chance to talk with Aaron Roy, Operations/Strategy, about the capabilities of this operating system.
“The kinds of problems we see today in current desktop 3D printing,” said Roy, “are that almost every manufacturer has its own kind of software, whether it’s Marlin (often used with RepRap), MakerWare (for MakerBot), or others. Then, on top of that, if you need to repair a file, you need another set of software tools, such as Netfabb, MeshLab, or another program. On top of that, you usually need some type of controller software, such as Repetier or Pronterface.”
For many, this list of needed additional software is off-putting. On top of this, messing up any step in any of these three or four layers of programs, well, sometimes it just better to start over rather than sift though all the code and steps to make corrections.
3DPrinterOS could change the user experience of 3D printing. The developers want to help remove the guessing and checking to ensure a first time quality print.
“What we did, is we built the first operating system for 3D printing,” said Roy. “I say operating system because it’s end to end. It’s everything, from uploading a file, finding a file, repairing a file, tracking a file, slicing, designing, anything you need to do, you can do in our system.”
The rarely admitted reality is that “desktop 3D printing is tricky.” Continued Roy, “You keep different iterations on your desktop. You don’t always know what slicing settings work. You don’t know what the G-Code means. It can be confusing for users, especially for schools and students. But with 3DprinterOS, all of your files are organized so you can keep track. On top of that, you don’t need to be with your computer, so to speak. You can access the operating system from anywhere since the files are stored in the cloud. It’s very convenient to have one central portal to use with an iPad or iPhone, for example. The operating system renders across all the different printers we already support.”
Do we need a 3D printing operating system for all printers? Part of the answer comes from European manufacturers. The business model these vendors use focuses on developing excellent hardware and then being open to working with others on the software.
The 3DprinterOS operating system does not supersede a program like Repetier or MakerWare. But it does offer functions that handle difficult pieces of the puzzle. “Repetier-Host is great if you’re a person that knows 3D printing, and you know you’re skilled at using these different programs to manipulate an object,” noted Roy. “But it’s a local program, not based in the cloud. So you’re tethered to your printer. 3DprinterOS is in the cloud so you don’t have to use Repetier, Cura, or MakerWare if you didn’t want to. You would not have to leave our operating system to complete tasks.”
The developers have a program for consumer style desktop printers, and they are looking into expanding it for use with the more professional machines.
If you’ve worked with a one or more desktop consumer brands, you know that many aspects of printing can be improved. Said Roy, “A big file of MakerWare, for example, can crash your desktop. So we designed a feature we call Magic Fix for every printer we support. This feature will orient, repair, analyze and prepare your part file for printing, and do so for the specific printer make you have. For example, say I had a Makerbot Replicator 2. I could click “fix” and MakerWare would automatically repair and orient my part, and then direct the nozzle or energy source to the right place on the bed for that printer. For schools, for example, this is a huge help. A student might not know what Netfab is, but a student can understand how to use Magic Fix. They can prepare their files for printing, with a lot less effort.”
For the current desktop side, slicing is an area Roy said is the most important to improve. “Fast slicing and accurate slicing is exponentially important to making 3D printing more accessible. We built all of our slicing in the cloud. This is meant to be super fast. Something that might take 10 to 15 minutes before, we hope to do in 15 to 30 seconds. In this feature, you can also edit G-Code if needed.”
Another key feature is what Roy refers to as the dashboard. It allows people to get insight into what’s happening with the prints. You can find out if the print was successful, and if it wasn’t what might have happened, and the specific details. The dashboard will indicate how much filament was used, how long it took, and other details and stats. If a job failed, you could go back and see why. You can check the slicing settings, see how the nozzle behaved, and so on. “It helps the learning curve versus just guessing and you go back to the drawing board,” added Roy.