Autodesk Drives Into 3D Printing With a Hardware Play


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Autodesk’s open-source 3D printer and Spark software platform for 3D printing affirm its commitment to advance the 3D printing market, and to improve the platform and create new capabilities by engaging end users.

News Analysis


On 14 May 2014, Autodesk made two 3D-printing-related announcements:

  • It announced the planned availability of Spark, an open software platform to support 3D printing that will give developers access to major pieces of the code and APIs.

  • It disclosed that it will launch an open-source, stereolithography-based 3D printer.

Autodesk has not provided the printer's name or price, or said whether it will manufacture the printer itself. Autodesk will sell the printer bundled with software, and plans to make its design available for others to use and build on.


Spark’s software platform for 3D printing is a positive step toward improving the interoperability of software, hardware and material suppliers, regardless how the end-user has combined those tools. Currently, users have to orchestrate a variety of different software solutions for 3D model creation, slicing, support structure, optimization and printing. This software ranges from sophisticated, licensed computer-aided design (CAD) offerings to rudimentary, freely available offerings. Similarly, 3D printers range from enterprise devices costing over $1 million that sinter exotic metals down to consumer printers costing a few hundred dollars that extrude plastic.

Autodesk has drawn an analogy between its software platform Spark and Google’s Android offering: Both are designed as a foundation on which different providers can build tools that will meet their markets’ and users’ requirements. Gartner believes the premise behind Spark is promising, as it offers the potential to further drive the use of 3D printing deeper into enterprises worldwide. We expect Autodesk’s CAD and 3D modeling user community to participate in developing and extending the platform.

Autodesk intends for this 3D printer to serve as a “reference” printer that demonstrates the interoperability of the Spark platform. While many vendors have embraced open development and community technologies, Autodesk's announcement offers several unexpected twists:

  • This is the first ecosystem of open-source 3D printer hardware and open software, and could result in enterprises creating purpose-built devices that enable them to produce proprietary goods.

  • Autodesk will let the user community brainstorm and enable innovations.

  • This is the first time a major CAD provider has entered the 3D printer hardware market.

  • The only open-source 3D printers have come out of the “maker” universe; all enterprise-class 3D printers have been closed-source.

While Autodesk understands the software side of 3D printing, managing the supply chain and distribution of 3D printers is not its core capability, and it faces competition in delivering value in these areas. Autodesk also has little experience with 3D interfaces for consumers aside from the 123D suite of free software. Also, while exposing the code and APIs to developers can be a magnet for creative thinking, these environments can be harder to validate and often contain bugs, which could limit the impact of the platform.


Enterprise R&D, product development, engineering and IT leaders :

  • Monitor Spark’s development and communicate with Autodesk to understand how your R&D or manufacturing effort could benefit from this new capability.

  • Evaluate whether Autodesk’s 3D printer can meet your unique prototyping and production requirements or if you will need to make open-source modifications.

  • Compare this solution with other 3D printer and 3D printing service providers' a la carte software and hardware solutions.

  • Actively monitor Autodesk’s ability to deliver, service or maintain quality hardware.

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