Autodesk just announced two things that could be significant for 3D printing:
- An open software platform for 3D printing called Spark. This platform will make it more reliable yet simpler to print 3D models and easier to control how that model is actually printed.
- Their own 3D printer that will serve as a “reference implementation for Spark. Autodesk President and CEO Carl Bass says this printer “will demonstrate the power of the Spark platform and set a new benchmark for the 3D printing user experience.
Autodesk has already supported the 3D printing community in a major way, especially when it comes to students and educators. They have also actively supported the e-NABLE community and other sources of crowd-based innovation. This announcement further demonstrates their commitment to contribute to an important technology already having a very positive impact around the world.
Regarding licensing for their new software and hardware, Autodesk says:
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.
Spark’s open licensing could have a significant impact. Think about how far 3D printing has come in recent years. This growth and development has primarily been the result of open source designs (for example, the RepRap), shared with the world, picked up by others, further developed, re-released, and so on.
Now, Autodesk, a company with significant financial and personnel assets, will give that very active global community an open software and hardware platform. This offering will provide an opportunity to address many of the common complaints with the current state of 3D printing.
The details on Autodesk’s new software and hardware platforms are scarce for now, but Autodesk says both will be available later this year.
The printer sure looks pretty, but I’m actually more interested in the software side of Autodesk’s announcement. The whole 3D printing workflow could be significantly improved with 1) better software and 2) moving away from the STL file format in favor of a format developed specifically with today’s (and tomorrow’s) 3D printers and materials in mind.
My experience with Autodesk’s software so far has shown me they know how to build applications that provide a smooth user experience. I can think of no other company that knows 3D modeling and 3D file formats better.
I don’t know exactly what features their software and hardware will include, but I’m confident both will be of a high quality. Since the software is open and hardware designs will be released, others will be free to build upon these offerings. I’m guessing it will further accelerate an already rapidly developing technology.
We’ve waited for the “big players” to get into 3D printing. HP and Epson are still getting ready, and we know they’ll shake things up when they do. Whatever they offer, though, it’s not likely to be shared or licensed freely. Autodesk is making a significant contribution here.
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