Friday, 15 March 2013

3D printing ... It's hardware AND software, good news for Autodesk?

Makerbot is partnering with Autodesk the leading provider of CAD and 3D design software. Autodesk own the well known 3D software brands such as 123D, AutoCAD, Maya, Inventor, 3DS, Navisworks and others.

It's not so easy getting 3D software to talk to 3D printers in a way minimizes friction and re-work. The image of 3D printing as little more than hitting the 'Make' button is just plain wrong. In practice, 3D designers use many software tools, adjust many parameters, and oversee a complex multi-step process.

Take a look at this 'marketing' image from Bre Pettis and Makerbot Industries. It's clearly posed.

Whether or not those objects were printed on a Makerbot I could not tell you. But you can be sure that their production was a lot more complicated than downloading a .STL file from Thingiverse and hitting 'Make'.

And that's a problem if you want to sell 3D printers to consumers.

For Makerbot to be successful beyond the hobbyists, they need software optimized for a consumer 3D experience. Hence the partnership with Autodesk.

Remember the XBOX? Will Autodesk learn from Makerbot and produce their own 3D Printers? The 3D experience needed to create a mass market is not hardware, it is not software, it is the integration of both.

And as has been shown by the explosion of RepRap copies (there are now over one hundred companies making products similar to the Makerbot) its easy to make hardware, but a lot harder to develop software.

Software of the kind that Autodesk own takes decades of R&D investment. Good news if you want to bring the 3D Printer equivalent of the XBOX to market.

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