Gambling on cloud technology to advance additive manufacturing

While additive manufacturing is the driver behind bringing manufacturing online, this latter segment (that we would call “cloud manufacturing”) still raises several questions among industrials. The reasons for this slow adoption certainly vary from one professional to another, but in the end, the true adoption might come down to the ability to automate as many processes as possible onto one unique platform.

One company that has decided to gamble on cloud technology from day one is 3D Control Systems, a company that you certainly discovered as 3DPrinterOs. Following the recent launch of its cloud-based AM platform ZAP, we caught up with Michelle Bockman, co-founder and CEO of 3D Control Systems, to clarify possible misunderstandings around the company’s name, to discuss the use of cloud-based technologies and 3D Control Systems’ vision in the industry. 

Mechanical engineer by training, Bockman has built up extensive experience in leading companies of the industry such as Nikon, the metrology expert; GE Healthcare, GE Digital, HP as well as in key verticals such as automotive, to name a few. From roles in automation, customer-dedicated services, and manufacturing to roles in the digital industrial market, Bockman has always been driven by the possibility to create from scratch.

I may have worked for leading organizations but these organizations acquired startups or created start-ups within their company to grow their business. I realized that I had the most fun within the start-ups”, the CEO tells 3D ADEPT Media. 3D Control Systems is now benefitting from this entrepreneurial mindset, without the same go-to-market capabilities leading structures usually have. “It’s challenging, we are doing a lot of things by ourselves but the best part of it is that we enjoy it and we continue to expand the team”, she adds.

So, 3D Control Systems or 3DPrinterOs?

3D Control Systems was founded in 2014. Since then, the company has gained so much popularity with the development of 3DPrinterOs that most people have come to believe that 3DPrinterOs was the company’s name. Our guest in this Opinion of the Week confirms that 3DPrinterOs is not a standalone company but just the first platform 3D Control Systems has been developing since its beginnings. The principle of the platform is simple: connect desktop 3D printers to a network just the same as desktop PCs are linked to a server. The ultimate goal is to create an easy to use workflow management interface that works across the majority of OEM 3D printers and helps to manage users print cues, design files and track the material expenses from one central platform.

Over time, we realized that this platform could also be used in the industrial market. Our new platform, ZAP, has been built on this model. It provides a wide range of new and advanced features that will enable factories to automate their internal industrial 3D printing equipment and better manage external production. The platform works on a subscription model and can be customized for each customer”, Bockman notes.

Images: courtesy of 3D Control Systems

A closer look at ZAP

ZAP stands for Zero latency Autonomous Platform for Advanced Manufacturing.

After a virtual tour of the platform, we saw that ZAP might be one of the rare platforms that provides a comprehensive list of features that any manufacturer looking to mass-produce parts using AM, would require. Those features can be categorized into five main options: CRM (Customer Relationship Management), PLM (Product Lifecycle Management), ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning), QA (Quality Assurance), and MES (Manufacturing Execution System).

Interestingly, unlike its predecessor and unlike most platforms that focus only on 3D printers, ZAP also takes into account the post-processing needs of manufacturing.

The team at 3D Control Systems has got manufacturers covered. We saw that the operator can assess different types of manufacturing processes, various post-processing options, the manufacturing time and costs as well as the supply chain. Furthermore, the platform also takes into account that each 3D printer in a factory has its own software, and makes it possible to manage the printing process with various 3D printers at the same time.

We have an all-in-one platform. Every week, we have a new feature. No one is doing that yet. What makes us outstanding is that we first developed a platform that was successful while the others are doing it from zero. This means that no matter what issue occurs during the production of an automotive part, for instance, we can easily detect where the issue is and address it immediately”, Bockman points out. 

“Healthy goals”

With the launch of ZAP, 3D Control Systems has started a new chapter in its journey. If the company is “targeting service bureaus, companies that take internal requests, and companies that focus on advanced manufacturing”, the team still has a long road ahead. “We have a product roadmap to continue to work on ZAP. We have healthy goals that consist of getting a significant amount of customers, and showing a broader view of what we do at 3D Control Systems” our guest enthuses.

As a leader, Bockman cannot help but think that one way to achieve these goals is through diversity. With a track record for inspiring young girls to look into STEM areas of study and careers, she strongly believes that one cannot create the right product if a team is not diverse. [50% of 3D Control Systems is made up of women]. While she recognizes that women should continue to support and inspire each other, she lays emphasis on the fact that this diversity should go beyond gender, and skin colour. It should be about “diversity of thoughts”.

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