Autodesk just revealed their plans to jump from desktop 3D printer/platform development to taking on high-production industrial machining. And it goes way beyond hardware. A few years ago, we wouldn’t imagine Autodesk even getting into hardware. We joked about them producing their own 3D printer, then they did. But one little ol’ 3D printer, with one little ol’ print head? Well, that’s not good enough and, besides, there are much bigger problems to solve.
Autodesk has loads of manufacturing equipment at their Pier 9 workshop. (See our Pier 9 visit here.) Everything from turkey basters to Haas 5-axis milling machines. You can quite literally, sew a jacket, then hop into the next room and print some buttons for it. But with all the 3D printers they have, there’s nothing that does large scale, and certainly nothing that does large scale fast. Autodesk plans to fill that void and has given a first look at what that may be with Project Escher.
Project Escher is demonstrated through a machine with multiple print heads building a single project together in one go through what Autodesk 3D Printing Research Scientist, Andreas Bastian, calls “collaborative fabrication.” Andreas says, “there’s been an undo focus on the actual hardware, and a lot of the software has kinda been left behind.”
Though we’ve seen some cool advances in software like AstroPrint and Simplify3D, we agree there’s a lot to be desired on the side of 3D printing software. Though they’ve demonstrated this “collaborative fabrication” quite impressively with a fancy extruded aluminum mock-up, the magic pushing all those print heads hither and yonder is happening through the software. However, 3D printing is just one aspect of this. Because they’re focusing on the software, “it’s not just limited to additive, it has the potential to be able to do subtractive technology–there’ll be tool changing so you can switch tool heads, you can do hot staking, you can do pick and place,” say Cory Bloome, Autodesk Hardware Lead.
Through a computer called “The Conductor”, the print job is coordinated among the various members of the orchestra, working together to build the part. Though they don’t mention it directly, I like to imagine multiple machining operations happening simultaneously with technology like this–growing and cutting, cutting and placing, placing and vacuum-forming, vacuum-forming and basting… ya know, Cyborg Maker 2020. Here are a couple questions we asked Cory about Project Escher.
SolidSmack: How has the development of Ember and your experience in developing mechanical systems influenced this project?
Cory Bloome: From our experience in developing Ember, we learned the value of embedding ourselves with our customers. We gained first-hand insight into what worked and what failed outside the lab. Based on this early feedback, our customers influenced the design of the Ember machine, interface, firmware, materials and countless other aspects of the Ember ecosystem.
SolidSmack: How is it different?
CB: Project Escher is substantially different from Ember because we are not building production hardware. But like Ember, it is an ecosystem, and we are involving real users as early as possible in that ecosystem to help guide improvements.
SS: How would Autodesk’s Spark 3D printing platform be a part of this?
CB: The Spark 3D printing platform is an open ecosystem that integrates software, hardware and materials. The Project Escher technology will become part of the ecosystem and utilize Spark’s additive manufacturing workflow functionality, including mesh healing, support generation and tool path generation.