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5/22/2014
09:06 AM
Scott Dunham
Scott Dunham
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Autodesk's Spark: Android Of 3D Printing?

An open-source 3D platform backed by an established company like Autodesk could spur a new wave of 3D printing experiments and initiatives.

Autodesk, a global provider of 3D modeling and CAD software services, has announced it will produce and sell its own desktop-sized 3D printer, which will be the first device to feature the company's new open-source 3D printing platform called Spark. In short, Autodesk hopes its Spark platform becomes the go-to operating system for commercial 3D printing, with Autodesk CEO Carl Bass boldly describing the system as the "Android of 3D printing."

Although the printer itself has the whole industry abuzz, Bass's comments show that the real story is the open-source platform. Spark aims to make the process of designing and printing a 3D model easier to control.

In its recent industry report on consumer 3D printing, "Consumer 3D Printing: A Market At War With Itself," Photizo Group explored the market dynamics and tensions between open- and closed-source hardware and software development within the 3D printing industry. Today, open-source 3D printer hardware and software is more prevalent in the consumer market, but our research finds that future potential users want the peace of mind associated with proprietary 3D products backed by the industry's biggest names. The report notes that one possible beneficial scenario for the industry is uniting the die-hard open-source community and the mass manufacturers of proprietary hardware and software.

[Click through our slideshow on 3D printing in space: NASA Explores 3D Printing: 5 Cool Projects.]

Autodesk's Spark platform could do just that.

Autodesk says it will license the software inside its upcoming printer for free and will let others copy its printer hardware design (although the firm has yet to announce the type of open-source license). Autodesk also intends to work with other manufacturers of 3D printers to integrate the Spark platform into existing hardware designs, with the exact manufacturers also yet to be named.

Autodesk commands a fair amount of industry clout due to its development of a variety of globally successful 3D modeling software products, including AutoCAD, Maya, and numerous other programs that have defined the industry.

Autodesk Spark 3D printer (Source: Autodesk)
Autodesk Spark 3D printer
(Source: Autodesk)

How far Spark could reach within the 3D printing industry is difficult to say, given the lack of details at this point. However, the platform will likely start with a groundswell at the lower end of the market, with small manufacturers of consumer and "prosumer" printers embracing the idea first.

Industry leaders 3D Systems and Stratasys, which still derive most of their revenues from professional and industrial applications in 3D printing, are unlikely to jump at the idea of allowing anything open source near their products. After all, both companies have been growing hand-over-fist by providing high-end printers for decades, so we see little incentive for them to adjust that formula just yet.

Ultimately, however, Autodesk's Spark could threaten the industry's biggest names. A multitude of capable hardware already exists in the market from independent manufacturers, putting pricing pressure on the current industry leaders. Some of these offerings could become very compelling when combined with a production platform backed by one of the industry's top software companies. In this way, we see Spark as having highly transformative industry potential.

Too many companies treat digital and mobile strategies as pet projects. Here are four ideas to shake up your company. Also in the Digital Disruption issue of InformationWeek: Six enduring truths about selecting enterprise software. (Free registration required.)

Scott Dunham is a Research Manager with Photizo Group, a research, consulting, and market intelligence company. Having been one of the first to identify specific gaps in the additive manufacturing market, and in the latest market development of personalized 3D printing, Scott ... View Full Bio
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ScottDunham1294
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ScottDunham1294,
User Rank: Apprentice
5/22/2014 | 2:00:12 PM
Re: Business use?
Hi Chris,


Great thought - there are actually some manufacturers serving the IT industry that are able to use lower-end 3D printers for value-add products. I spoke recently with a company that makes custom rack server fixtures. This type of thinking (identifying areas where additive processes can add value) is what it's going to take for 3D printing to really grow.
ChrisMurphy
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ChrisMurphy,
User Rank: Author
5/22/2014 | 11:26:56 AM
Business use?
It'll be interesting to see if IT organizations use these kind of printers and software for experimenting with business applications of 3D printing, in innovation groups and skunk works mode.  
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