"Mom, is it okay if I have a friend over for supper?"
"Sure, dear. What is your friend's name?"
"His name is Leviathan and he is very hungry."
Such was the conversation I imagined taking place at various 3D printing manufacturers upon reading Carl Bass' post on the Autodesk blog announcing the company's intention to offer a 3D printer. Coupled with what sounds like a software interface platform called Spark, Autodesk plans to release the printer later this year. Judging by the prototype's picture, it looks like it will be a photopolymerization unit (SLA or DLP).
"We will be introducing our own 3D printer that will serve as a reference implementation for Spark. It will demonstrate the power of the Spark platform and set a new benchmark for the 3D printing user experience," wrote Bass, President and CEO of Autodesk.
This does not necessarily mean smaller 3D printer manufacturers should be wondering if it's time to seek more capital. Bass is a full-fledged member of the maker movement and somehow manages to run the world's most famous 3D software titan while remaining sympathetic to the open source crowd. Autodesk is similar to Google in this regard. Yes, they have some huge, profitable products they protect passionately, but they also give back.
Until now, Autodesk's altruism has been most visible to 3D printing enthusiasts as the 123D software suite and the absorption of MeshMixer and Tinkercad, the latter of which might be better described as a community rescue. With this announcement, the company can add open source 3D printing hardware and software to the list.
"Spark will be open and freely licensable to hardware manufacturers and others who are interested. Same for our 3D printer – the design of the printer will be made publicly available to allow for further development and experimentation," wrote Bass.
Compared to the possibilities potentially afforded by Autodesk's resources, this is by no means jumping into the 3D printer business with both feet. But, with a market cap roughly twice that of 3D Systems, a mere glance in the general direction of hardware is worthy of considerable attention. Autodesk is known for superior quality products – industry standards – and it is hard to believe their hardware play won't strive for a similar degree of excellence.
I suspect if one asked Carl Bass about his goals, he would be unlikely to say, "making money." Instead, he might genuinely profess his desire to improve people's lives, user experiences and ability to create. Some might call this a Karma strategy. But, if Autodesk can get more people to adopt 3D printing, it will inevitably lead to increased sales for the company's modeling software. Maybe that's Karma, or maybe it's just good business.