Glowforge: Next-generation 3D laser printing

About Glowforge

Seattle-based Glowforge has produced a 3D laser printer that can cut and engrave products from a wide range of materials, including wood, leather, acrylic, paper, fabric, and even chocolate. It operates via an intuitive cloud-based app from any Chromebook, Mac, PC, tablet, or smartphone. In 2015, Glowforge raised $27 million in crowdfunding in just 30 days. The printers are now on sale for home and business use.

Industries: Technology, Manufacturing
Location: United States

The visionaries behind Glowforge wanted to make it easy to 3D print on any material – wood, fabric, stone, even food. But traditional laser cutter/engravers were too expensive and hard to use, so the team designed a solution that moves the cost and complexity to the Google Cloud Platform.

Google Cloud Results

  • Prints direct from web and mobile apps, making 3D laser printing easy and affordable at home
  • Reduces set-up time for each print from 30 minutes to just seconds
  • Accelerates development and deployment of new services from weeks to just days
  • Replaces specialized sensors with cameras and cloud processing, saving hundreds of dollars

Cloud-first design halves the price of Glowforge 3D printers

Enabling Change

Solutions: Migrate Work to the Cloud

Mainstream 3D printing is based on an additive process, where the printer builds an object out of layers of plastic. Glowforge was founded to offer a different approach: using a subtractive process with a laser, cutting and engraving a vast range of materials, from textiles to wood, and even food. The simple desktop product makes the technology affordable at home, with stunning prints in minutes instead of hours.

“We didn’t design a piece of hardware and then add the cloud. Instead, we build the product around the cloud from the very start. That let us put functionality in the cloud that would otherwise need to be present on the machine,” says Dan Shapiro, Founder and CEO at Glowforge. “There are over 50 sensors in each Glowforge, each orchestrated by our software on Google Cloud Platform to deliver the perfect print.”

Typical laser cutter/engravers cost $12,000 and up. They use specialized firmware and hardware to operate. Glowforge realized from the outset that the traditional architecture would make its printer prohibitively expensive, and prevent the company from delivering some of the magical features it had in mind for its customers.

“It’s about making it easy enough for a child to use, but powerful and fast enough for a creator to launch a business with. Without Cloud Vision API someone would spend 30 minutes or more just aligning a design with their material. With Glowforge, the same thing can be done in seconds.”

Dan Shapiro, Founder and CEO, Glowforge

Glowforge knew that having massive computing resources would let them build a faster, simpler, and cheaper product. That’s why the company designed around a simple web app linked to a series of Google Cloud Platform (GCP) products. Customers can copy and paste their design into the web app and GCP takes it from there: transforming the design into a motion plan, recognizing materials, configuring onboard actuators, determining safe operating parameters, and then letting users push the single, Glowforge button to start.

“Involving Google Cloud Platform from the very beginning shaped the design of the product and let us do amazing things for our customers,” says Jonathan Park, Software Engineer at Glowforge.

Glowforge 3D print sample

The core application runs on Google Kubernetes Engine (GKE), which also controls user access via Cloud Identity & Access Management. Previous designs, templates, and information about materials are held in Cloud Storage with Cloud SQL as the primary data backend. When customers hit the print button, thousands of messages are sent from the user app to Compute Engine, which provides the scalable processing power, using a range of GCP products, such as Cloud Vision API, to turn creative customer designs into a printed reality.

The whole process is fast, easy to use, and delivers stunning results. Most importantly, it’s affordable. Dan acknowledges that “without GCP, the whole solution could easily cost twice as much to buy and use.”

About Glowforge

Seattle-based Glowforge has produced a 3D laser printer that can cut and engrave products from a wide range of materials, including wood, leather, acrylic, paper, fabric, and even chocolate. It operates via an intuitive cloud-based app from any Chromebook, Mac, PC, tablet, or smartphone. In 2015, Glowforge raised $27 million in crowdfunding in just 30 days. The printers are now on sale for home and business use.

Industries: Technology, Manufacturing
Location: United States
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Try Kubernetes Engine, BigQuery, and other Cloud Platform products with $300 in free credit and 12 months.

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