Stratasys announced the GrabCAD SDK, which should allow far more extensive use of their equipment in industrial settings.
Some may wonder why 3D printing is not more widely used in manufacturing, and might suggest it has something to do with machine capabilities. Perhaps the process is too slow, or maybe too expensive.
That’s not it.
The truth is that today’s advanced manufacturing is a highly sophisticated process involving massive software integration between all the equipment involved in a production line. It’s this integration that allows precise control over the entire process, as well as collecting considerable data about operations.
That information is critical because it is how the end parts can be priced. The knowledge of how long each stage of production takes, how much material and labor are used, and other factors, all can be synergized into a true and actual unit cost of manufacturing. Without this knowledge, the sales department would have to over-price the products to ensure money is not lost, and that over-pricing could result in fewer sales.
By knowing the exact costs it is then possible to slim down the price to the most competitive level, and thus maximize sales.
But it’s more than just a passive thing. Modern production configurations also need to turn on a dime to make adjustments, take on new types of parts and customization. By integrating all steps in the process, it’s possible to quickly reconfigure the equipment to make something new.
Those are but a few possibilities when a manufacturing setup is properly integrated through software.
The Problem With 3D Printers For Manufacturing
To date, few if any 3D printers have been able to properly integrate with these long-standing manufacturing systems. In a very real sense, they are standalone boxes that would sit on the side of the manufacturing floor, and used in a manual mode instead of being part of the overall automated process.
Years ago a wise fellow described this scenario to me as being an “Easy Bake Oven”, and that’s why some consider 3D printing as a kind of “toy” within the manufacturing environment.
The new announcement deals with GrabCAD SDK. The “SDK” stands for “System Development Kit”. This is software lingo for a set of programmable interfaces that can be used to hook up to other systems. In other words, it’s a door through which an external system can tickle Stratasys’ industrial 3D printers.
Operations that could be integrated can now include machine activities, as well as data gathering, should someone use the SDK to build an interface to a larger factory software system.
“Each SDK package includes a complete set of application programming interfaces, documentation, and code samples that enable development partners and manufacturing customers to establish two-way connectivity between Stratasys FDM 3D printers and enterprise software applications. The program gives customers the power to integrate, manage, and support additive manufacturing for production of end-use parts.”
This is a massively important step for Stratasys, although there will be no immediate effect: this is just a toolkit and someone will have to use it to build interfaces.
However, in the long run it means that it will be possible to directly integrate Stratasys gear into modern manufacturing processes. Once these interfaces are built, they will persist and can only grow in capability over time.
For Stratasys, this step is one on their journey towards manufacturing that they have been pursuing for several years. After having the lower end of the market being eaten up by startups and other competitors, they wisely decided to shift towards manufacturing where, let’s be honest, there’s a lot more money anyway.
In the end this step could result in huge increases in Stratasys sales in years to come.
Easy Bake Oven, no more.