Ever since it was established, Autodesk Spark sparked questions on what its actual goals and practical objectives were. While in Israel I figured I would take a look for myself at the Autodesk Israel 16th floor office, where most of Spark development is carried out. I met with Eitan Tsarfati, whom I had already the opportunity to meet in Milan a few years ago, during an event I had organized in collaboration with Autodesk Italy for Design Week.
I was very happy to find out that he is now in charge of the 3D Printing Group and Consumer Products at Autodesk Israel, running Autodesk’s most important 3D printing program outside of the main Bay Area offices. Like the Milan one, Autodesk’s offices in Tel Aviv are an amazing place to work. The view from the 16th floor lets you see the entire panorama, all the way to the beach and the old city. Inside the atmosphere is both stylish and casual, with a lot of open spaces which certainly favor creativity and exchanges.
Of course when it comes to hardware it is easier to understand more about it by seeing in person. With software it is a bit more complicated but nevertheless my visit was very useful to understand exactly where Autodesk stands in its quest to create a complete ecosystem for 3D printing.
Spark is basically the “3D Print Button” for all Autodesk’s applicatives as well as for those of the companies that Autodesk partners with. “Instead of each one of Autodesk’s software teams developing and implementing their own 3D printing support, they will just have to integrate the Spark API to support a growing number of 3D printing technologies and services,” Eitan explained.
At the same time Autodesk created the Spark fund to finance some of its partners through venture capitals. Not all Spark partners are funded by Autodesk and some, like HP, BigRepOne or ExOne, are even potential competitors in 3D printer manufacturing, since Autodesk is now also a hardware manufacturer with the Ember 3D printer.
“We want to have this platform not just for Autodesk products,” Eitan continues “if we really want to push the industry forward, we can’t be closed and say ‘ok this whole innovation is just for us, and nobody else can use it’. Take even our fiercest competitor, if he wants to embed 3D printing components, we’re going to offer him our components.”
This is not a issue though. The company has long understood that this is not the time to compete in the world of digital, additive manufacturing. it is a time for all those involved to work together in order to enable this type of digital manufacturing better compete with and improve upon traditional and unsustainable manufacturing methods.
The way the Autodesk Spark team gains a better understanding of what different 3D printing technologies can do is by trying them all out, all the time, in a huge 3D printing test lab which is basically a 3D printing wonderland for anyone with a passion for this technology. Almost an entire floor, the 15th, is dedicated to this lab.
Here they experiment both with very large format extrusion 3D printing, mainly with a BigRepOne and a Robotic Arm, and small size, high precision 3D printing, using of course the Autodesk Ember DLP 3D printer. In the lab you will find hundreds of prints in many different materials including both plastic and clay or cement. You’ll see furniture printed in real size as well as artistic shapes and complex geometries printed to push the machine’s capabilities.
You will also find literally hundreds of tiny shapes printed to push both the machine’s and the software’s capabilities. Some are purely geometrical chaos functions that determine a particular finish on the product, possibly giving it different inherent properties. We often say that the biggest limit of 3D printing, beyond those of the hardware and software, is in our own minds: we don’t know what to make the machines do because we have to used them to make things that do not exist yet. This is exactly what the Spark team is trying to address in the lab.
That and, of course, gathering as much information as possible on different technologies so that when the “3D Printing Button” will be implemented it will offer within itself all the possible applications of digital manufacturing, from building and engineering to product design. But when will all this happen?
“I would ask the question differently,” Eitan tells me. “I would ask: “What needs to be done, in order for us to be in that position?”. So, it’s not just about the AutoDesk effort, it’s the hardware companies, It’s for Xjet to do their job right, HP to do their job right, Stratasys to do their job right, for us to make this platform available for everybody and not just someone, for material companies to get inside this platform and offer new materials and new methods of 3D printing, for service bureaus who hold these different printers to be organized in a way that they can distribute around the world, maybe for a company like Amazon or someone else to distribute it in an ordinary fashion…”
!All of these ecosystems have to work together in order for this to happen. So, in our own little space, we are trying to develop the software, trying to work with the industry and see that whatever we are doing is working with hardware manufacturers, service bureaus, DRM solutions and all possibile partners.” Eitan concludes
Given that Israel itself is a small yet technology rich innovation hub, there aren’t many better places to start from. And the view, at the 16th floor of 22 Rothschild Street is just breathtaking.