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Re-thinking additive manufacturing software and security

The Software as a Service (SaaS) model has grown rapidly in popularity, with worldwide revenue from such services reaching $3.2 billion in 2016 — more than doubling in the space of just five years. The model has already been used to deliver software solutions for everything from business automation to customer management and document storage, with new concepts being unveiled regularly. 

In the world of additive manufacturing, the potential rewards offered by this new model are great, providing rapid prototyping bureaus with easy access to a range of cutting-edge tools at a reasonable cost. Nonetheless, many companies working in the field of rapid prototyping have been relatively cautious about adopting the SaaS model as part of their day-to-day operations and workflow management.

In this article, we will look at the the potential benefits this model can offer when it comes to 3D printing and additive manufacturing services, and the steps taken to answer some of the most common concerns about its implementation and use.

When considering potential applications for SaaS, it is important to remember that many widely-used CAD packages still operate on a license-based model (although an increasing number of cloud-based CAD applications are becoming available). Also, many rapid prototyping bureaus have rigorous NDAs in place Additive Manufacturing Technologieswith their customers that need to be adhered to, making data security a key concern. These may include restrictions on where data can be stored due to the Federal Information Security Management Act, or similar local regulations, which will require the use of in-country servers to make the software compliant.

However, there are a number of advantages to the SaaS model that make it increasingly attractive to forward-thinking companies offering additive manufacturing and 3D printing services.

Staying ahead in a rapidly evolving industry

Principally, the agile nature of SaaS makes it ideal for keeping pace with the rapidly evolving world of 3D printing technology. We’re seeing a number of exciting developments in the additive manufacturing technology at the time of writing. These have included a wider range of 3D-printable materials, making the technology suitable for a wider range of complex applications, and new 3D printers to suit virtually any budget. It’s certainly an exciting time for the industry, but it could be argued that the associated software will soon struggle to keep pace with these changes.

With a license-based model, each new development requires an update to the software, which will usually need to be purchased and manually installed. Suffice to say, this can quickly prove time-consuming and expensive. Put simply, SaaS can offer greater business value for rapid prototyping bureaus by making new updates available automatically, as part of the standard service delivery. This should also include the ongoing support and maintenance required to ensure users are able to make the most of their chosen software’s capabilities — another key advantage when it comes to long-term cost containment and overall efficiency.

Solving the problem of data security

While concerns over the security of such platforms are still often raised, if rapid prototyping bureaus are prepared to request a detailed breakdown of the security offered by any SaaS provider they are considering partnering with, these can frequently answered categorically. Key areas to discuss include:

  • Use of managed servers, maintained by a reputable provider
  • Encryption methods used for all user communications
  • Segregated data storage for each customer’s information
  • Use of international data centres to meet local regulations and ensure there is no need to transfer customer data out of the country of origin
  • Adherence to internationally recognised information security standards, such as ISO 27001

Considerable strides have been made in data security for SaaS services, largely in response to customer concerns. As a result, now is the perfect time for rapid prototyping to begin taking full advantage of the benefits offered by this model in order to provide their customers with easier access to first-class 3D printed components.