3D Modeling & Printing for 'Personal Manufacturing'

Beth Stackpole

December 14, 2011

3 Min Read
3D Modeling & Printing for 'Personal Manufacturing'

First it was talk about spreading the power of 3D to engineering hobbyists. Now the latest buzzword being hyped by 3D printing and 3D software makers is something they're calling "personal manufacturing" -- a move to leverage cloud computing and other emerging technologies to help the general public imagine and create stuff on their own.

Autodesk has been pushing the concept for a while now, but mostly with the do-it-yourself crowd in its sights. Now, as part of its Autodesk 123D family, Autodesk has released technology previews of Autodesk 123D Catch and Autodesk 123 Make, a pair of services designed to allow anyone -- not just would-be engineers or CAD jockeys -- to turn any kind of 3D models into their own artistic creations.

So what exactly are these tools? In some ways, they are trying to claim a little bit of that Apple mystique, in that Autodesk is promising that the average Joe can jump into 3D modeling without any prior knowledge of geometry, tolerances, or surfaces, just as Apple lets consumers make movies or compose music without being an expert in either discipline or in using what was previously pretty specialized software.

"Apple has definitely paved the way, in that today you can buy a $200 camera and shoot a nice-looking video without spending thousands on video equipment and create a professional-grade experience," Hendrik Bartel, product manager at Autodesk, tells Design News. "We want to be the same for the manufacturing and design space and make tools accessible for anyone who has the passion or who is remotely interested."

Autodesk 123D Catch, for example, previously code-named Project Photofly on Autodesk Labs, is touted as a photo scene editor that will allow anyone capable of using a point-and-shoot, mobile phone, or digital SLR camera to take a series of photographs (Autodesk recommends between 40 and 60 pictures) of objects, people, or scenery and create a realistic and accurate 3D representation without having any formal skills in CAD modeling. Once the images are captured, users upload them to the cloud, where the Autodesk technology kicks in to analyze the photos and create a geometrically accurate representation of the images that can be downloaded as standard Autodesk 3DP or OBJ files. The app also has built-in sharing capabilities, including short movies or animations, so users can share and view their creations on mobile devices, YouTube, Facebook, and other social media channels.

123D Catch's companion app is Autodesk 123D Make, also a free technology preview, this one available for the Mac, that can convert those 3D models into 2D cut patterns that can then be assembled using 3D print technology and taking advantage of low-cost materials such as cardboard, wood, fabric, metal, or plastic. Users can either take the file for 3D printing to a third-party fabrication facility or print it on their own if they have access to a 3D printer.

Even though these personal manufacturing tools aren't aimed at professional engineers, Bartel thinks the whole movement and the resulting technologies will have ramifications in the long run. "There will likely be some shifts in the professional segment to take advantage of these tools as well," he says.

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