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Jeff Rowe
Jeff Rowe
Jeffrey Rowe has almost 40 years of experience in all aspects of industrial design, mechanical engineering, and manufacturing. On the publishing side, he has written well over 1,000 articles for CAD, CAM, CAE, and other technical publications, as well as consulting in many capacities in the design … More »

Autodesk Has Big Plans For 3D Printing Program With Spark Investment Fund

 
October 30th, 2014 by Jeff Rowe

Autodesk, Inc. announced that it will be investing up to $100 million in 3D printing companies over the next several years. The Spark Investment Fund, which will be operated within Autodesk, is the first of its kind for the 3D printing industry and will invest in entrepreneurs, startups, and researchers pushing the boundaries of 3D printing technology and accelerating the third industrial revolution.

Check out the video below from May 2014 at the MakerCon Bay Area event where Carl Bass, the president and CEO of Autodesk, announced the company’s first venture into digital fabrication hardware:

Autodesk Spark Demonstration With Carl Bass, Autodesk CEO

Earlier this year, Autodesk announced Spark, an open and free of charge (but not necessarily open source) software platform for 3D printing that will connect digital information to 3D printers in a new way (at this point, details are few). In other words, back in May Autodesk announced that it was working on both an SLA 3D printer (the Ember 3D), as well as a comprehensive 3D printing platform called Spark.

Spark will theoretically be able connect to any 3D printing hardware and be material agnostic, and Autodesk has invited the 3D printing community to collaborate, build, and improve the platform – hardware, software, and materials.

Companies and individuals developing hardware, software, materials, marketplaces and maker spaces are encouraged to apply to participate in the Spark Investment Fund’s investment portfolio. In addition to the financial investment, Spark Investment Fund recipients will become part of the Spark partner program and have access to marketing and other developer services available to Spark partners. It is through this unique combination of strategic investment and value-added partnership opportunity that Autodesk seeks to extend and empower the Spark ecosystem and spur innovation toward a more mature 3D printing experience.

“The days of taking a closed, top-down approach to innovating for additive manufacturing are behind us. Numerous industries recognize the value of tapping into entrepreneurs or startups with better ideas and approaches, and 3D printing is no exception,” said Samir Hanna, vice president and general manager, Consumer Products and 3D Printing, at Autodesk. “The Spark Investment Fund will empower innovators to improve 3D printing, and to help us unlock the tremendous promise of this technology.”

This entry into the market is not so much about the company’s own 3D printer, but more about making Spark the 3D printing platform that Autodesk hopes will take hardware and software technology to the next level, as well as appeal to a much broader prospective customer base – primarily easier to use with better results. The main intent behind all of this is to make Spark for 3D printers analogous to Android smartphones and tablets. This analogy helps explain what Autodesk’s ultimate goal is for 3D printing and additive manufacturing technologies.

As Android has benefited from the open source developers community, Autodesk hopes that its 3D printer platform will also see progress from its developer community.

According to unnamed sources within the company, the Autodesk 3D printer will be a DLP SLA-based machine, with PLA as its build material. Ultimately, Spark is envisioned to be compatible with all types of 3D printers, such as SLA, FDM, and SLS machines.

Partnerships, of course are vital for success, and this is what Autodesk is counting on with its announcement of the Spark Investment Fund. I wouldn’t be surprised if companies such as 3D Systems, Stratasys, FormLabs, or smaller players joined as partners, but this remains to be seen.

In a nutshell, what Autodesk is attempting to do is create an ecosystem for 3D printing that better integrates hardware and software for improving the user experience and expanding the potential market. While others have tried, Autodesk might just succeed in this endeavor.

To learn more about the Spark Investment Fund or to apply to become a recipient, visit spark.autodesk.com/fund.

So, what do you think? Will Spark be the platform that finally pushes 3D printing into the mainstream and a “must have” technology for the masses? Please send us your comments or email me at jeff@ibsystems.com.

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