Interview: CloudFab, Connecting The 3D Printing Universe

CloudFab, a new service that connects designers, buyers of 3D printed models, and manufacturers that fabricate the models, is now out of beta. You can open an account and start to use this new service for 3D printing.

CloudFab basically works like this: Manufacturers list their machines and prices. Buyers can then upload STL files, and request quotes from all manufacturers that have a machine that can make their part. We've written software that analyzes the file and automatically generates a quote based on various factors, including shipping cost. That way, quotes are generated (almost) instantly.

In this interview we talk with Nick Pinkston the co-founder of CloudFab. He says about himself:

“I've been a lifelong tinkerer - working with rockets to race cars to electronics, and I've always had to beg for access to the right equipment for my projects. With CloudFab, we're trying to make that process a whole lot easier.”

- What is CloudFab?

- The concept we've developed is a platform to produce 3D objects from 3D files & standardized specs. Our system allows anyone to access a wide network of digital fabrication providers (all forms of 3D printing for now) so that they can setup their own shops. For industrial designers, they'll be able to get automated quotes for any 3D printing process / material within seconds. For owners of virtual worlds / content, they'll be able to monetize their creations to physical products.

- Which market are you targeting?

- The current site targets designers, engineers and serious hobbyists. Unlike Shapeways, we don't target general consumers (e.g. my mom) directly. We're encouraging others to build these types of sites on our API and sourcing platform. The diversity of ideas for 3D is quite high, and we think that no one general site could serve the market well, so we think the cloud model is best.

- How does the process work?

- To use CloudFab in the coming release, you upload your file to our site, and select the process / material specs (and advanced specs if required). After this, quotes are generated from applicable sellers via our STL analysis algorithm. You then select one of the quotes & send payment. We hold your money in escrow, and your file / specs are sent to the supplier for fabrication. After you receive & approve the parts, the money is released to the supplier.
Soon though, you can do all of this via our API. The first API integration will be with the CADSpan plug-in for Google SketchUp. However, the API calls, documentation, etc. will be public for everyone to use pretty soon.

- Will the API require some license fees or will be public and free for all developers?

- The API will have a free version with basic functionality and higher versions will be on a subscription basis. It really depends which services they want from us. The less human actions and more parts through the system - the better for us. We're not going to charge for API users like that. However, if a users wants a lot of value-added services - they'll have to pay to play.

- Are you going to release more plugins for other modelers like 3D Studio, Hexagon, Zbrush...? Or know of others being prepared?

- That is the CADSpan plug-in that we're integrating with; it should be ready within a month. We might integrate into other programs in the future, but we don't have hard plans to do so at this time. If anyone wanted to develop apps for our system that integrate into our API, we'd be more than willing to closely work with them to make it happen.

- As 3D printing services can use the API and build business on it, do you think that Cloudfab may be an impulse for the emergence of this kind of services in Internet?

- Yes, that is exactly our goal. We want to be the cloud resource for digital fabrication just like Amazon is for cloud computing. We'd like to work with anyone who has passion to develop their ideas on our platform, and we'd encourage them to contact us with their ideas and plans.

- How do you protect designs’ copyright and authors?

- All the suppliers, by using the site, accept a non-disclosure and confidentially agreement. Also, the file is kept on our servers for the analysis, and only until you commit to a supplier do we send them the file - however if you want manual quotes the files will have to be submitted. Another way of securing this is the feedback system. I'm sure any supplier would be blacklisted if they stole or released a design to the public. 
Another issue is that, via the API, many of the objects will be variations on a central design or public objects. For instance, a designer might sell their creations on their own website and build/send orders through our system, but the design will already be on their site as a picture for viewing and the file never reaches the end consumer.

- What share does Cloudfab take on the cost of the final printed model? How much do you charge to the modeler/designer?

- Our model for on-site purchases is a sliding scale % of the transaction amount. Anything under $100 is free from fees. After that, it goes from 6% to 3% to a capped $90 per transaction fee for anything over $3K. The API will work a little differently ($100 will be charged fees as well due to added costs).

- What materials do your manufacturers have available now for 3d printing?

- As far as materials, here's the current ones by process:

Makerbot: black/natural ABS, HDPE
FDM: many colors of ABS/ABSplus and ABS-M30
PJET: VeroWhite / VeroGray (resins)
ProMetal: S4 (Bronze/Stainless)
SLA: 9 various resins 
SLS: Nylon with: glass fiber, alumide, and more.
ZCorp: most powders + color on some machines

We'll be adding even more with everyday. You can check out the "Get a Quote" page to see what's being added.

- A last thing... could an existing company, (for example like Shapeways) use your cloud of services to externalize costs and get a wider diversity of materials for 3D printing, better costs, or this is not the case?

- Certainly, anyone can use the API - from Shapeways to a single developer. We want to see the fabbing / mass customization community flourish as much as possible. A faster growing market not only allows us to develop more cool tech, but also brings us closer to our goal of bringing the means of production to everyone's desktop.


-Jordi R. Cardona-

© by Jordi R. Cardona. Link to this post without copying the text.

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