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Susan Smith
Susan Smith
Susan Smith has worked as an editor and writer in the technology industry for over 16 years. As an editor she has been responsible for the launch of a number of technology trade publications, both in print and online. Currently, Susan is the Editor of GISCafe and AECCafe, as well as those sites’ … More »

Autodesk’s own 3D printer, Ember

December 8th, 2014 by Susan Smith

3D printing is not just about manufacturing anymore: it is destined to permeate the AEC industry as well.

In a press conference held at Autodesk University 2014, president and CEO Carl Bass and CTO Jeff Kowalksi introduced the company’s new 3D printer, Ember.

Autodesk Ember 3D Printer

Autodesk Ember 3D Printer

A little over a month ago, Autodesk announced its “Spark Investment Fund” 3D printing program. Some months ago, Autodesk acquired the DIY online site Instructables, also signaling that something was up in their growing interest in the Maker community.

3DP companies have not been ones to provide so-called “open solutions.” They generally create a machine and their own polymers and/or other materials to use in their printers. No other materials will work.

Autodesk will follow that model by having their own machine and will formulate their own materials for their machines. Although this in itself will not be something new, the ability to use Autodesk solid modeling software directly with their own 3DP machine is brilliant, and saves on loss of communication via 3D CAD/CAM programs being translated by 3D printers made by other manufacturers. This means Autodesk can approach 3DP from both a manufacturing and an AEC standpoint – something no other company can do so far.


The move by Autodesk has not been lost on industry watchers. Back in September, Stratasys, a 3D printing company, acquired 3D CAD company, GrabCAD. The acquisition of GrabCAD is expected to allow Stratasys to provide its customers with enhanced collaboration tools and improved accessibility relating to 3D CAD content. According to company materials, GrabCAD’s cloud-based collaboration platform and community site is CAD software- agnostic, and empowers designers and engineers to manage, share, and view CAD files. Stratasys went the other way around and sought a 3D CAD company in order to have the same sort of seamless workflow with GrabCAD as Autodesk will ultimately have with its Ember and 3D design software and its new Spark, an open 3D printing platform.

The big difference is: everyone in the world knows AutoCAD. whether they’re interested in 3DP and the Maker Community today, they might be in the future.


Bass and Kowalksi say they needed their own 3D printer at Autodesk because they have ambitious ideas of what materials they’d like to print together. They are not the first company to want to do this: Israel-based Objet Technologies has for years offered their own 3D printers that print multiple types of polymers for prototypes (of their own making), with varying tensile strengths and qualities, depending upon their use. No one in that genre has surpassed their ability to do this.

Jeff Kowalksi brought some prototypes in his backpack.

Jeff Kowalksi brought some prototypes in his backpack.

Autodesk wants to be able to print metal and plastic simultaneously for the building of the same item with both metal and plastic parts. This hasn’t successfully been done before, to my knowledge.

The interest in 3DP also extends to the future possibility of making architectural structures such as walls, windows, and doors on premises with 3DP rather than having to ship them. The other obvious advantage is that by doing so, the process ties into the operations and maintenance of said components and the buildings themselves, by having a trail of information generated from the 3D CAD model or BIM software.

The Ember Explorer Program designed for a limited number of interested parties is as follows:

  • early built Ember 3D printer, finishing kit and dedicated support
  • For materials scientists, software developers, researchers, makers and industry leaders
  • limited availability
  • $5,995 to participate

To add to this, Autodesk introduced Spark, “an open 3D printing software platform that makes it easier for hardware manufacturers, software developers, materials scientists, product designers, and others to participate in and benefit from this technology,” according to company materials.

Connectivity: Spark connects digital information to 3D printers in a new and streamlined way, making it easier to visualize and optimize prints without trial and error, while broadening the range of materials used for printing.

Open: Because the Spark platform is open, everyone — from hardware manufacturers, to app developers, to product designers — can use its building blocks to push the limits of 3D printing and drive fresh innovation.

Free: To encourage any and all members of the 3D printing industry to not only participate in Spark, but also to fuel it forward, Spark will be free to license.

The term “open” is an interesting one, freely bandied about by software companies frequently. Although Spark will be open and free, what does it connect to? The 3D model information will have to come from a CAD software program, namely an Autodesk product, that will require a license. The materials used will be those developed expressly for Ember, Autodesk’s own 3D printer.

Granted, it will be much easier for those customers already invested in Autodesk products and services to go with the Autodesk printer and 3D printing platform than to run their designs through a competing 3DP or a service bureau using multiple 3D printing and CNC options – and that is what is destined to be profoundly market-changing about this announcement.

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Categories: 3D, 3D PDF, 3D printing, AEC, architecture, AutoCAD, Autodesk, BIM, building information modeling, Cloud, collaboration, construction, engineering, infrastructure, point clouds, reality capture

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