Autodesk wants to be the Android of 3D printing

Autodesk has unveiled its own 3D printer, as well as a software platform called Spark that it hopes will be the Android of 3D printing.

Autodesk wants to be the Android of 3D printing

Autodesk is well known for its 3D-design software, but is now expanding into printing. But rather than simply release it’s own hardware, both the “Spark” software platform and the printer will be open designs for anyone to use.

CEO Carl Bass told the BBC the aim is for Spark to be an “operating system” for 3D printing, in the hopes that other manufacturers will use it the way Android is used across smartphones.

He compared the Autodesk printer to the first Google Nexus phone, saying his firm was trying to “kickstart” the market.

“Spark will be open and freely licensable to hardware manufacturers and others who are interested,” said Bass in a blog post. “Same for our 3D printer – the design of the printer will be made publicly available to allow for further development and experimentation.”

The Autodesk printer uses a different technique than most on the market. Rather than use an extruder – melting plastic and spraying it via a nozzle to create the desired shape – it will use stereolithography, which uses lasers to harden layers of plastic resin.

That means the Autodesk printer can make more complicated items, and also lets it use a wider range of materials, whereas most 3D printers are limited to a single type of plastic. “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,” Bass added.

Bass said Autodesk was working with hardware makers to “integrate the Spark platform with current and future 3D printers”, but didn’t name any companies.

The Spark platform and the 3D printer will be both be available later this year, but Autodesk didn’t reveal specific dates or pricing.

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