There are several cloud-based 3D print services available, but we realized there could be a fundamental problem facing them in the future.
3D print cloud services can be incredibly useful. They often provide a vastly simpler method of using your desktop 3D printer by providing all required functions (and sometimes much more) on easy-to-use web pages. You’ll be able to access (and view in real time if you have a web cam) your 3D printer remotely, and from any type of device, which can be quite handy when performing long, unattended prints.
These cloud services work through two components:
- A server complex in the sky that provides central control and performs the necessary processing.
- A set-top box of some type (possibly a Raspberry Pi, PC or custom box) that interfaces between the 3D printer and the cloud server.
GCODE prepared by the cloud service is dribbled through the internet to the set-top box, which then delivers the commands to the desktop 3D printer via a USB cable.
There are two issues, one of which is obvious: if the network goes down, your print could fail. It’s possible the set-top box could pre-load the code and minimize the risk, but ultimately you’re still dependent on the quality of your network.
Secondly, and perhaps of more import is the speed of the system. We’ve seen recent attempts to 3D print at extremely high speeds, and these experiments have realized you require onboard processing far beyond the CPUs typically found in 3D printers. The reason for the heavy-duty processing requirement is that the extreme motion of the extruder must be fed movement instructions at a faster rate. Worse, the extreme speeds require intelligence to compute effective micro-acceleration maneuvers during direction changes. This means lots of instructions delivered at very high speed.
And there can be NO delays, as the movement of the extruder isn’t going to wait.
The question we’re wondering about is whether an internet-based service running over a potentially slowish set-top box and slower-speed USB link could actually deliver high-speed printing instructions? To achieve full speed, you may have to ensure:
- You have a fast, clear network that doesn’t go down during very long prints
- Your set-top box must be fast enough to handle incoming instructions and deliver them to the printer
- Your USB link must be of sufficient speed
We suspect many cloud-based 3D print setups do not meet all these qualifications, and so they may not be able to handle high-speed 3D printing as provided by certain new vendor products.
If high-speed 3D printing catches on, it’s possible the cloud 3D print providers may have to up their infrastructure to keep up.
Image Credit: Wikipedia