Autodesk is making a big commitment to 3D printing with three recent moves to put its software and services, and even some new hardware, at the center of that industry.

Autodesk CEO and President Carl Bass blogged on May 14 that later this year the company will launch an open-source software platform called Spark for driving 3D printers. He also announced the company will start selling its own 3D printer, whose design will be open-sourced as part of the launch.

Those announcements come on the heels of a partnership formed in April to integrate an application programming interface (API) of 3D Hubs, a rapidly-growing, Amsterdam-based global network of nearly 5,000 3D printers available online for public use, with Autodesk's 123D family of 3D printing-support apps. Users will be able to select a nearby printer online, upload files in .STL format and pick up the finished objects, usually within two days. The API is to be integrated into the entire Autodesk platform by end of year.

That the San Rafael, Calif.-based engineering software vendor would shift to hardware to support the 3D industry has raised the eyebrows of analysts and pundits, who noted that the launch could shake up the nascent 3D printing market. "The uncertainty associated with the hype shouldn't overshadow the opportunities that 3D printing creates," noted Michael Shanler, a director with consultant Gartner Research.

In his In the Fold blog, Bass wrote, "Spark will be open and freely licensable to hardware manufacturers and others. Same for our 3D printer—the design will be made publicly available to allow for further development and experimentation. The printer will be able to use a broad range of materials, made by us and by others, and we look forward to lots of exploration."

Autodesk's moves come at a time when use of 3D printing is growing in design and construction, and although the thrust seems aimed at consumers, the potential to address construction needs is clear.