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Sculpteo Takes 3-D Printing to the Cloud

Forbes (02/07/12) Ludwig, Adam

Sculpteo is a French company that is constructing the 3-D printing infrastructure to support an impending shift in manufacturing. “The materials that we can use for 3-D printing will eventually be as good as materials used in factories, making it easy for consumers to customize the design of any object,” said Sculpteo Chairman Eric Carreel. “And with cloud technology, it could be done using smartphones and tablets.”

Sculpteo’s original mission was to enable the design, uploading and ordering of personalized merchandise by individual consumers, but it is moving beyond that challenge to create a cloud-based engine that allows any business to offer 3-D printing services on its own website. The company’s new 3-D Printing Cloud Engine offers firms embeddable instruments to devise and market their own 3-D printed objects.

Sculpteo must deal with the novel challenges of processing 3-D printing to support its cloud-based infrastructure. “Choosing materials to clothe 3-D surfaces makes the process much more complex,” Carreel said. “You can have a very nice drawing on your screen, but you may have designed something that cannot be used.” Sculpteo has developed an algorithm to correct errors that crop up in designs, while pricing objects based on form, volume of material and technical parameters of production is another consideration. “Helping designers and retailers compute the right cost is very complex, so we have to develop algorithms for that too,” Carreel said.

Sculpteo has teamed up with Dassault Systemes to help refine the dynamic interactions among the e-merchants, designers, customers and 3-D printing facilities using its cloud-based service, and Carreel is convinced that Sculpteo “will do for 3-D printing what PayPal did for online payments.” Sculpteo is one of a number of companies seeking the democratization of manufacturing by giving designers the tools to generate products through a cheap, scalable single process.