3D printing, GitHub, and PDM erosion

January 4, 2013

3D printing is still a narrow niche play zone. In my view, we are not going to see 3D printer at every home soon. At the same time, manufacturing companies and larger service vendors are getting more and more interested in the 3D opportunity. As it happens with regular printers and scanners in offices, these resources are often shared and can be used by more than one person in a company. Looking back, print management and remote printing utility or service was one of the most requested functionality in early EDM/PDM systems. Guess what? The same is going to happen with 3D printing nowadays.

The following article caught my attention earlier today – GitHub Codes Up Computer-Less 3-D Printer Software. For those of you not aware, GitHub is hosted document revision control system. According to Wikipedia: GitHub is a web-based hosting service for software development projects that use the Git revision control system. GitHub offers both paid plans for private repositories, and free accounts for open source projects. As of May 2011, GitHub was the most popular open source code repository site.[3] In other words, if you are software developer, the change you and/or your team will end up using GitHub for source control management is pretty high.

The problem is that 3D print job takes a lot of time. You don’t want to hook your computer and keep it busy with this job. Remember old pen plotters 20 years ago? The problem is exactly the same. According to the article, GitHub will provide a service to send print jobs to 3D printer remotely. Here is the quote:

GitHub, the popular and well-funded version-control company, is entering the 3-D printing market. They aren’t jumping into the world of hardware (not yet at least), but instead are automating tedious workflow issues, namely printing parts without leaving a laptop tethered to the 3-D printer for hours at a time. Their solution, called Make Me, allows users to push files to the MakerBot via HTTP and monitor the build process via webcam.

However, I found the following passage even more interesting.

The tool itself is a handy utility, but it also helps illuminate GitHub’s corporate culture. “We tend to do these internal hacks/projects in three stages,” says Zach Holman, a developer at GitHub. ”Get something cool (new technology, 3-D printer, what have you); hook it up to a rudimentary service that we can interact with through Hubot, our chat room robot; build on top of it and do something pretty awesome we couldn’t really predict in the first place. So, from that perspective, we’re on stage two. Curious to see what’ll happen in the future (if anything!)”

It made me think beyond "remote printing" idea. Software is a significant part of every manufactured product these days. Mobile phone, automobile and aircraft are containing huge amount of software code that needs to be managed by development and engineering. To manage software versions is one of the requirements we started to hear more and more during PDM/PLM implementations. PLM vendors are starting to pay attention to that. Take a look on PTC/MKS acqusition or TeanCenter mechatronic process management.

What is my conclusion? Business environment is changing very fast these days. Proven open source software combined with some good ideas can provide a good foundation for new innovative projects. How long will to build some PDM rudimentary services for GitHub to provide a solution to small manufacturing firms management 3D CAD and software design project? Probably not much and it can become a holiday or summer time project for one of GitHub developers. PDM/PLM vendors can discover a new competition coming from unusual and unexpected direction. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg


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