Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Autodesk Creates $100 Million Fund to Back 3-D Printing Technology


Autodesk Inc is strengthening its position in the 3-D printing space, creating a $100 million fund to bankroll researchers and entrepreneurs and striking a handful of diverse partnerships involving everything from IP protection to inexpensive metal printing.

Announced the day after Hewlett Packard unveiled 3-D printing products slated for 2016, Autodesk’s push highlights ongoing efforts by established companies to help shape what many consider to be the future of manufacturing.

The value of 3-D printing units shipped for both consumer and enterprise uses will continue to double every year until 2018 when it will hit $13.4 billion, according to research firm Gartner.

Although the market potential for 3-D printing is huge–Gartner’s estimate doesn’t include software, printing materials, licensing and related industries–the sector is still nascent and major challenges remain.

High printing costs, inconsistent and sometimes broken workflows and other hurdles are bedeviling early adopters and are among the problems Autodesk is seeking to solve, Autodesk Senior Director of Business Development and Operations Aubrey Cattell said.

To assist in that goal, Autodesk created the $100 million Spark Investment Fund to find and fund hardware, software, materials and marketplace startups. Selected startups will also partner with Autodesk by working through its 3-D printing platform Spark.

Introduced last spring, the free, open-source platform is building a library of APIs to help users optimize designs and improve the creation process.

Mr. Cattell said the $403 million acquisition of MakerBot Inc. by Stratasys last year is an example of the payoff that could come from backing startups in the sector. He said investing in such startups, many of whom have expressed interest in partnering with Autodesk through the Spark platform, is a good way to solidify such relationships.

“Our aims are strategic as well as financial,” he said.
Autodesk acquired 3-D design tool Tinkercad last year and now features it along with three other design apps to create 3-D products.

Although he called the maker movement an “economic force” driving excitement and innovation around 3-D printing, Mr. Cattell said Autodesk was focused on industrial and commercial applications.

Along with announcing the fund, Autodesk announced partnerships with digital licensing company Authentise Inc. and materials company MatterFab Inc. that specializes in affordable metal printing for industrial uses.

Autodesk also announced a partnership with 3-D Hubs, an Airbnb of sorts for 3-D printing that allows users to find nearby printers and then send designs to the operator that can be either picked up or delivered.

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