Autodesk is a global leader in 3D modelling software. The firm is now going into hardware with their own 3D printer. The news was revealed by Chief executive, Carl Bass ahead of an appearance at the MakerCon conference in California, US. In addition to selling the hardware, Autodesk will also allow other manufacturers to create their own versions of the 3D printer or even power their own models from their software at no cost.
Bass likened the move to the way Google has pushed the adoption of Android. He compared the printer to Google’s Nexus smartphone; a product that was meant to inspire manufacturers to install Android on their own handsets.
Pete Basiliere, research director at the Gartner tech agency said, “The printer is a bona fide attempt to prove the interoperability and open source nature of Autodesk’s platform…And by sharing its design we could see a second wave of small start-ups creating stereolithography machines just as the makers did when the early material extrusion patents expired.”
Stereolithography 3D printers create items by using a laser to harden liquid plastic. The ultraviolet light traces a cross-section of the required design over a thin exposed layer of plastic resin, thereby turning it solid, before the unused material is then disposed of. The process is then repeated layer-by-layer until the article has been completed. This process is different from the extrusion technique that is more commonly used by existing budget printers. That process involves building an object by squeezing melted plastic out of a tiny nozzle until the object is complete. The Stereolithographic process is a more complicated to achieve, but it can deliver a more complex and detailed object, which has a smoother finish.
According to Gartner, about 56,500 3D-printers priced under $100,000 (£59,576) were sold in 2013. However, the firm predicts that number will grow to about 200,000 units in the next year. The industry will then see an “explosive growth” with purchases from businesses initially accounting for most of the demand.
Mr Bass told the BBC that he hoped others would take advantage of this to improve the 3D tech. “One of the limitations right now is on the material sciences side – the kind of chemistry,” he said…We’re making a printer that, rather than just being able to load in proprietary materials, you can load in any material you want. You can formulate your own polymers and experiment with those…That’s an important next step because we think material science is a breakthrough that has to happen to make [the industry] go from low-volume 3D-printed stuff to where it really starts changing manufacturing.”
Bass added that although the firm was giving away both the printer’s design and Spark, Autodesk ought to still profit because the move would then drive demand for the firm’s other products.
“If 3D printing succeeds we succeed, because the only way you can print is if you have a 3D model, and our customers are the largest makers of 3D models in the world…My feeling is that 3D printing has been over-hyped for home use but under-appreciated for its industrial possibilities…I think we’re really at the beginning of a new way of making stuff and we’re just trying to kick-start it.”
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