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Formlabs & Z by HP: Driving The Future Of Remote 3D Workflows

  • Case Study

Formlabs’ dispersed teams faced challenges with remote collaboration on 3D modeling and printing. Using Z by HP technology, the company reduced 3D data-conversion time by 75% and accelerated its employees’ ability to work together around the world.

Formlabs: Driving the Future of Compute-Intensive 
3D Modeling

Founded by MIT students in 2011, Formlabs has grown into a global provider of desktop-size 3D printers, as well as equipment and software that complement the printers themselves for prototyping or production usage. The company’s Low-Force Stereolithography (LFS)TM technology provides an excellent combination of high precision, high definition, and cost performance. 

Formlabs products and technologies support a range of industries in Japan, including Kaiyodo Co., Ltd., Japan’s most famous figurine maker; Creative Box Co., Ltd., a satellite studio of Nissan Global Design Center; and Nichinan Co., Ltd. These innovative companies create 3D models for use with Formlabs technologies using industry-standard tools such as Autodesk Fusion 360, SOLIDWORKS 3D CAD, and Pixologic ZBrush. 

Mr. Keiichiro Araihara

Marketing Director, Formlabs

“Because our company was founded by students at the MIT Media Lab, we have specialized in the development of 3D printers to create an environment where various people can work on digital fabrication.”

Challenge:
Wrestling With Remote Productivity

Based in Massachusetts and operating around the world, Formlabs lives and breathes 3D printing, so working with huge files is a foundational part of their business. 

 

That’s simple enough when each employee sits next to a dedicated, high-end workstation with the CPU, GPU, and memory resources to create, modify, and convert 3D data quickly. However, workflows don’t always work that way. Customer visits and demos, exhibitions and events, and other outside opportunities still require remote access to powerful computing resources. For those situations, the company struggled to find a workable solution. 

 

“I’ve tried screen-transfer remote desktop solutions, but to be honest, it wasn’t practical enough,” said Mr. Keiichiro Araihara, Marketing Director at Formlabs. “Performance was acceptable for simple data access, but modifying the details of a 3D model was effectively impossible. We abandoned it because it was difficult to make fine adjustments due to poor response.” 

 

Formlabs’ workflow faced another challenge: Their laptops couldn’t continue to do other work while sending a big 3D file to the printer in the background. This single-tasking limitation cost team members a lot of time. 

 

As more workers shifted to a work-from-home model in 2020, the company needed a much better remote-computing solution to sustain collaboration and productivity. 

Solution:
HP ZCentral and Z by HP Workstations

To meet this challenge, Formlabs turned to Z by HP. Z by HP offers a complete range of powerful desktop and mobile workstations, and centralized remote solutions, as well as stunning displays for graphics-intensive workloads. Optimized for the software tools that workgroups depend on every day, these solutions offer performance and productivity across different customer environments. 

 

Formlabs selected the HP Z4 Workstation for scalable and reliable performance, with an eye on the operability benefits of HP ZCentral. The company set up the workstations in a rack-mounted configuration, for fast access to data and design files. Team members now use ZCentral remote software to access this centralized workstation power from any location and many different kinds of devices. With this new approach, Formlabs’ issues related to accessing high-performance compute power remotely was quickly resolved. 

“The reason we chose the HP Z4 Series Workstations was that they had excellent performance for our practices. The Z4 Series comes equipped with Intel Xeon® family CPUs, and we can expand the memory up to 128GB. You can choose freely according to your needs, and it is also sufficient in terms of expandability.”

Mr. Keiichiro Araihara

Marketing Director, Formlabs

“I feel that the conversion time of 3D data can be reduced to about one quarter, and the speed of 3D rendering has improved three times or more.”

Mr. Keiichiro Araihara
Marketing Director, Formlabs

ZCentral provides remote access to centralized workstations with outstanding performance and fidelity. Unlike other remote-access solutions such as VPNs and remote-desktop utilities, ZCentral is built specifically to support workstation-class visual workloads over broadband, which has significantly lower bandwidth than local area connections. A centrally deployed workstation designated “SENDER” communicates bidirectionally with a user’s remote computer called “RECEIVER,” allowing the end user to conduct a remote session on the workstation. 

 

This solution protects IP by keeping it safely inside the firewall and sending only pixels out over the wire, rather than the underlying (potentially sensitive) data. This approach can significantly reduce security exposure, even with uncontrolled end-user devices and over public wireless LANs or data connections tethered to smartphones. “I’m pleased with the experience I got from using it. I can easily check 3D data and issue 3D print instructions even from a laptop computer on the go,” Mr. Araihara said. 

ZCentral Remote Boost sends only pixels out over the wire, keeping sensitive data inside your secured environment.

HP and Teradici remote access software is built specifically to enable scenarios where the operator and workstation are not at the same physical location.

Find out more

“I’ve tried screen-transfer remote-desktop solutions before, but... if you wanted to modify the details of the 3D model with a mouse, it was difficult to make fine adjustments due to poor response.”

Mr. Keiichiro Araihara
Marketing Director, Formlabs

Benefit:
Unparalleled User Experience

Using HP ZCentral and Z by HP Workstations, Formlabs has successfully equipped its at-home remote workforce to do advanced 3D modeling and operate industrial-quality 3D printing equipment. As the proportion of remote workers globally and across industries continues to grow, this implementation shows the kinds of technology solutions that will help companies meet existing requirements and adapt to new challenges as they arise. 

 

The payoff for Formlabs is definitely speed—but also much more. 

 

For starters, individual compute-intensive tasks are completed much more quickly. “For example, I feel that the conversion time of 3D data can be reduced to about one quarter, and the speed of 3D rendering has improved three times or more,” said Mr. Araihara. 

The centralized workstation now handles the task of queueing 3D files for print, freeing users’ laptops for multitasking instead of making them sit and wait. This has resulted in a tremendous number of productivity gains for Formlabs teams. Some 3D editing tasks had previously resulted in a status bar that did not move forward, but now that process is running smoothly without delay on the Z4. Workloads are executed locally on the workstation, so the solution delivers very high performance, while ZCentral remote software optimizes the remote user experience. In fact, the combination of HP ZCentral and Z by HP Workstations makes the remote employee experience comparable to having a workstation under the desk, Mr. Araihara explained. 

 

“It’s an extremely great advantage for us that we can ‘do’ impossible work as well as drastically reduce the processing time,” he concluded.

3D modeling setup with a ZBook that can tap into the Z4 desktop from anywhere with ZCentral remote software.

Go behind the scenes of the Z by HP labs to meet HP Z Strategy and Planning Lead Christian Jones, who helped design the remote technology that allows you to create and harness the power of Z by HP from any device.

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