The POV Dispatch is our Autodesk internal newsletter, published monthly, where we discuss the big ideas that are important to us and our customers. It is published by our Corporate Strategy & Engagement team of which Autodesk Labs is a part. Bill O'Connor is an Innovation Strategist at Autodesk. Bill contributed an article about our 3D printing efforts to a recent issue, and I thought I would share it with you.
As everyone has heard by now, Autodesk is about to help 3D printing realize its potential by launching Spark, a free and open platform for 3D printing, as well as our own Spark-powered 3D printer (Isaac). Boom. You're welcome. But even for many inside the company, the reasons for doing this, and the goals we hope to achieve with this move, are less clear. Your faithful editors here at the POV Dispatch thought a piece on Spark and Autodesk's 3D printer — not just the what, but also the why — might be useful. So here it is, with help from Director of Busibess Development and Operations, Aubrey Cattell...
3D Printing: A Realm of Fascination and Frustration
For years now, 3D printing has been a kind of dazzling disappointment.
On the one hand, we have the evolving tools of this emerging trade, as well as the global excitement — think Maker Faire — and media frenzy over a technology that we all know will revolutionize the way we design and build things. We've been hearing from our customers for some time that they want to go beyond prototyping with 3D printing and make it part of production, beginning with the design process itself. This is a natural fit for Autodesk: our mission is to help customers "imagine, design, and create a better world," and the nature of creation is changing as software and hardware converge.
On the other hand, while 3D printing offers tremendous promise, the reality has been less impressive. This is mainly due to a disconnected, frustrating process and a wildly varying level of quality in terms of what the 3D printing process actually creates. Moreover, 3D printing is not just one technology, but many affiliated technologies. One of the principal disconnections has been the gap between the software that allows us to create 3D models and the different types of hardware that allow us to bring those models to life.
Autodesk Gets in the Game With a Platform and a Printer
To address this critical gap, recently Autodesk announced Spark, an open software platform for 3D printing; we also announced our plans to introduce our own Autodesk 3D printer.
Spark addresses the failure points in today's process, making it simultaneously simpler and more reliable to print 3D models, and making the actual printing process easier to control. Using our software design expertise, we're creating the best-in-class 3D printing experience so that Spark will be adopted as the industry standard.
To go along with this 3D printing platform, we also plan to offer our own printer which is codenamed Isaac. And just as the Nexus One was less about hardware and more about demonstrating the power of Android, the Autodesk 3D printer will demonstrate the full capabilities of the Spark platform and set a new benchmark for the 3D printing user experience.
Ultimately, we are building an ecosystem to empower groups currently working in isolation — hardware manufacturers, service providers, software developers, and material scientists — to explore and push the limits of 3D printing technology.
An Open Approach to 3D Printing
Even at the ripe age of 30, 3D printing is still relatively immature because the approaches to developing it to-date have been closed and proprietary. To speed and encourage innovation, we're inviting all participants — including competitors — to build and improve on our platform. Our approach with Spark is to have open software, open hardware, and open materials. Making the elements of 3D printing publicly available for experimentation and development, and using those insights to inform a continual evolution of the platform, will ensure that Spark delivers the best possible 3D printing experience.
Targeting the 3D Printing Continuum: From Consumer to Industry (and Everyone in Between)
Another reason for developing Spark is our goal of making 3D printing more of a viable option for industrial manufacturing, where companies are making larger and more complex things. The greatest opportunity in 3D printing is in the industrial space. Imagine being able to design and print an entire car from the ground up, with fewer components all fitting together perfectly. This is exactly what our first Spark partner, Local Motors, unveiled with the Strati, the world's first full-size 3D printed car. This partnership is a start in developing the technology to enable 3D prints of things like the wing of an airplane, or the nozzles and valves that go into that plane. 3D printing lets designers optimize geometry and performance attributes while maintaining or even reducing costs. Simultaneously, when you put technology in the hands of individuals, their tinkering can disrupt entire industries. Makers provide a great example — their continued experimentation is forcing enterprises to think in new ways and to innovate in order to stay ahead. For these reasons, Spark needs to appeal to the continuum of users, from consumers, makers, entrepreneurs, up to and including industrial users. We want Spark be a user-friendly yet industrial-strength 3D printing platform — available for free. We also want to empower new entrants, who might not have been able to enter the space if it weren't for Spark.
A Revolution, Realized: Fulfilling the Promise of 3D Printing...and Autodesk
By developing Spark, Autodesk will radically change the scope of what can be designed and made using 3D technology. And as more things are designed in 3D before they become physical objects, being at the forefront of this technology represents a huge opportunity for Autodesk. That's because everything that's 3D printed starts with a 3D model, and Autodesk is a worldwide leader in 3D design. So we'll create more demand for our existing design software, and our tools themselves will evolve (and attract new users) as we accommodate these new forms of manufacturing, building, and creating. Spark, therefore, helps expand the market opportunity and the value proposition for our core design offerings. In this way, Spark will touch every Autodesk employee. Over the coming months, we'll be working with hardware manufacturers to integrate the Spark platform with current and future 3D printers; both the Spark platform and our 3D printer will be available later this year. A better 3D printing process will make it possible for everyone to imagine, design, AND create all sorts of new things that we haven't even imagined yet.
Spark and Isaac are alive in the lab.