Autodesk joins the 3D printer wars

The company is aiming to make 3D printing accessible to as many as possible. But it will be pricey.

Autodesk today announced its own consumer 3D printer, along with an open-software 3D printing platform. Autodesk

MakerBot, 3D Systems, and other companies that have dominated the lower-end 3D printer space have a giant new player to contend with: Autodesk.

Wednesday, Autodesk announced its own 3D printer, along with an open-software 3D printing platform, known as Spark. The company did not directly reveal pricing, and said in a blog post that both the printer and the platform will be available "later this year." But Autodesk CEO Carl Bass did reveal that the price would likely be in the $5,000 range.

Clearly, Autodesk wants to be the technology provider of choice for sophisticated 3D printing hobbyists, as well as others in manufacturing and business who use the technology as building blocks for their work. The company wrote that the hardware and software combination "will provide the building blocks that product designers, hardware manufacturers, software developers, and materials scientists can use to continue to explore the limits of 3D printing technology."

To date, the 3D printing market has been estimated to be worth about $2.5 billion, but a study by research firm Canalys suggested that it could rise to as much as $16.2 billion by 2018.

Though Autodesk has long been a significant player in the 3D printing field with its 123D suite of modeling tools, this is its first entry into the increasingly crowded 3D printer hardware space. It will have to contend with major names like MakerBot, and 3D Systems' Cube line of printers, as well as many others. Those devices are significantly less expensive than what Bass said the pricing would start at. MakerBot's Replicator 2X costs $2,500, while the Cube 3 is around $1,000.

But if anyone can make a quick mark in the field, Autodesk is a likely candidate, given its strong reputation and deep integration throughout the technology industry. Its tools, such as AutoCAD, are longtime mainstays for designers and modelers.

In the blog post, written by Bass, the company said that the Spark platform will be "open and freely licensable to hardware manufacturers and others who are interested. Same for our 3D printer." Bass added that "the design of the printer will be made publicly available to allow for further development and experimentation.

That, of course, is akin to Google's approach with Android, and one cannot help wondering if Autodesk is using the popular mobile operating system as a benchmark for how to get a platform into as many hands as possible.

Update, 2 p.m. PT: With more information on pricing for Autodesk's 3D printer.

Correction, 2:03 p.m. PT: This story now better reflects the segment of the market Autodesk is entering.

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