Autodesk’s Carl Bass says we haven’t delivered on the promise of 3D Printing
John Hayes posted on December 02, 2014 |

On the topic of 3D Printing, Autodesk CEO Carl Bass says, “It’s really a kind of a pain in the ass.” Many people would agree. 

There is too much effort to get your CAD model into a format that a 3D Printer can read.  There is too much expense to print your model in a material that is affordable and performs the way you want (black ABS anyone?)  Added to the complexity is the fact that 3D printing is really slow.  Slow is OK if you are making a prototype.  But slow is not ok for actually making more than one of something.

Despite these challenges to the industry, analyst firm Marketsandmarkets has estimated that the market size for 3D Printing will be $8.4B in 2020.  In 2014, Autodesk announced 3 initiatives that they hope will help the market grow even faster. 

1.       Spark Open Source Platform

Autodesk has branched out from its software roots into 3D printing.  Bass frames this as an extension of the company's overall movement from outputs that are, “screens and paper” towards real world objects.  One big initiative is Spark, an open source platform for translating CAD output to machine readable models that can then be 3D printed. 

Spark is designed to reduce the friction that entrepreneurs experience when they want to design and develop new 3D printers.  Rather than writing their own operating systems, 3D printer developers can use Spark to speed their printers to market. The market for Spark is broader than that.  Through their APIs, Autodesk wants materials developers to use Spark to bring their products to the 3D printing industry more easily as well.

2.       Ember 3D Printer

At first, it might seem counterintuitive for Autodesk to champion open source software whilst also introducing a 3D Printer themselves.  However, Autodesk will ship the Ember in 2015. 

The Ember is a demonstration of what is possible with the Spark platform.  And Ember is intended to be an open source platform of its own.  Autodesk has invited members of the industry such as materials developers and hardware developers to extend the platform with their own inventions.

3.       Spark Investment Fund

In October Autodesk announced the $100M Spark Investment Fund to help early stage 3D Printing companies develop their technology faster.  According to Samir Hanna of Autodesk, “The days of taking a closed, top-down approach to innovating for additive manufacturing are behind us. Numerous industries recognize the value of tapping into entrepreneurs or startups with better ideas and approaches, and 3D printing is no exception.”

There has been a lot of consolidation in the 3D Printing industry over the past few years - 3D Systems and Stratasys acquired many of the leading technologies.  With these initiatives, Autodesk is providing support for a more entrepreneurial ecosystem for the industry.

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