Distributed Digital Manufacturing – How APIs are Powering the Next Industrial Revolution

Matt Boyle Shapeways

Digital manufacturing (leveraging digital file inputs to perform on-demand manufacturing: CNC routing, 3D Printing, etc) has been picking up steam since the late 90’s and is now replacing previous technologies as “state of the industry”.  This has been driven by the desire for custom-manufactured products, tailored to the needs of the specific individual or project.

Digital Manufacturing Techniques

While the flexibility and application of these digital manufacturing techniques moved the industry forward in terms of product development and iteration, their actual implementations were very much classical manufacturing: large, centrally-located machines, operated in shifts to optimize for uptime, shipping their output all over the world.  This model uses traditional control and operations software and systems (requiring on-site or near-site human presence), and still requires a global physical logistics platform to fulfill customer orders.

The New Generation

The new generation of digital manufacturing machines, however, are different.  Machines are going the way of software and hardware architectures: away from hulking monoliths and towards horizontally-scalable, single, modular devices.  As these devices move into the industry, they’re coming with new features as well: connectivity via API.  This opens up a new world: software command/control via HTTP from anywhere in the world, just like we’re used to with the rest of computing.  This, coupled w/ the comparatively low CapEx required for these new machines enables the deployment and remote operation to just about anywhere in the world.  Now, we don’t need 24h factories to optimize for runtime: we can just follow the sun w/ support staff and operate the machines, wherever they are, from the comfort of our own time zones.  What’s more, this enables us to locate our manufacturing centers not where our offices are, but where our customers are.  This reduces their leadtime, and replaces a global physical logistics network with a digital one and a fraction of the cost.

All of this is powered by APIs.

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