Autodesk 3D printer
Autodesk's 3D printer concept for use with the 'Spark' 3D printing platform.
Autodesk has been hard to ignore since the first version of AutoCAD hit the market back in the early '80s. Like most big software companies, they operate in diverse markets — from architecture to animation, from game creation to product development. And now, after years of prodding around the edges of 3D printing, the company has jumped in head first with an open software platform called Spark (a name Geomagic used to use for its 'Direct Design' software pre-3D Systems buyout) and with an open-source 3D printer to go with it.
Autodesk's CEO Carl Bass explains on his blog that: "Spark will be open and freely licensable to hardware manufacturers and others who are interested. Same for our 3D printer – the design of the printer will be made publicly available to allow for further development and experimentation. The printer will be able to use a broad range of materials, made by us and by others, and we look forward to lots of exploration into new materials." That's not a route that we're used to seeing in this industry.
It's a brilliant move, however. For years companies (like 3D printer manufacturers) have been offering free software (though not 'open' admittedly) for users of their machines. Autodesk as a software company seem to be doing the opposite, freely offering the designs for a 3D printer to go with your software.
The coming together of the digital and physical worlds — accelerated by '3D' — is continuing at pace and the companies that really get it are those that can harness the power of both bits and atoms to innovate and help others do the same.
Few details at the moment (we will update as we learn), but it appears to be a desktop stereolithogrpahy system in the Formlabs mould with EnvisionTEC-like aesthetics. The 'freely licensable' platform (with backing from such a large entitiy) is a huge breakthrough, especially for anyone that has been watching the FDM-clone wars over the last few years.
According to a report by the BBC: "Mr Bass compares the new printer to Google's first Nexus smartphone, a product meant to inspire other manufacturers to install Android on their handsets rather than become a bestseller itself.
"In Autodesk's case the idea is to drive the adoption of its new Spark software, a product it likens to being an "operating system for 3D-printing."
This theory continues the trend for mimicking Apple and Googles strategies at the physical/digital intersect and begs the question — how long until one of these giants wakes up to the possibilities?