I recently wrote about 3-D CAD vendors wanting a piece of the low-end CAD market. While companies like Alibre and SpaceClaim came into being to go at that segment, the mainstream CAD vendors have been introducing their own scaled-down CAD programs along with newcomers like Corel–all of them spying opportunity in giving smaller companies and non-engineering professionals some of the capabilities of CAD without a lot of the feature-based overhead typically associated with traditional offerings.
It appears this same sort of thinking has many of these same vendors (and a bunch of new ones) chasing yet another, non-traditional engineering audience. The DIY (stands for do-it-yourself) maker market is rising in prominence as engineering types and non-technical folks increasingly look to explore their ideas, either just for fun or perhaps on a path to see if their innovation has legs to become a marketable product.
To satisfy this burgeoning demand for “DIY” tools, the CAD players are teaming up with 3-D printing and rapid prototyping vendors and even more specialized companies, like virtual manufacturing companies. Earlier this week, Alibre announced a partnership with 3D Systems Corp. to bundle CAD software with low-end 3-D printing systems to allow hobbyists or even smaller companies to create physical prototypes of their design at a reasonable cost.
The same week, Autodesk jumped into the fray. The company announced Autodesk 123D, a free Windows-based 3-D modeling applications now available in public beta release and aimed at providing so-called makers with content and services. The Autodesk offering combines digital design capabilities with services for creating the actual physical objects, including for-purchase personal fabrication services provided by Autodesk partners. For makers who want to print designs on 3-D printers, Autodesk has partnered with 3D Systems. Partner Ponoko Inc., which markets the Personal Factory platform for creating mass customized goods, will be available to Autodesk 123D users to connect them to local fabrication specialists and materials so they can turn their 123D digital creations into real physical items.
Autodesk’s third partner in its DIY/Maker push is TechShop, which is a membership based, do-it-yourself workshop where entrepreneurs, inventors and designers come together to bring ideas to life. TechShop locations provide access to key machinery for producing designs, including computer numerical control (CNC) milling machines, welders, table saws, drill presses and 3-D printers, among other resources.
The convergence of all of these technologies may be just what it takes to lessen the need for venture funding or big corporate backing for every entrepreneur/inventor who wants to bring their product ideas to life.