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back to article Autodesk CEO: '3D printing has been way overhyped'

3D printing may be all the rage these days, but the headman at one of the world's leading 3D design, engineering, and entertainment software and services companies thinks its promise has been overblown. "Much of what's been said of the benefits of 3D printing has been way overhyped," Autodesk president and CEO Carl Bass said at …

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Anonymous Coward

"3D printing has been way overhyped' 3D"

You'd never have guessed from the relentless mass media hype of this subject. Oh wait, its the same mass media that hypes Twitter, FB, Google etc as our new 'God'!

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Moore's Law?

"Software developers, he reminded the devs in the crowd, have had the luxury of writing software then sitting back and letting Moore's Law improve its performance."

"Moore's Law" wasn't improving performance, clever, hard-working researchers and engineers, backed by billions in R&D budgets were improving performance.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Moore's Law?

And the hardworking researchers and engineers were using improved software from CAD/EDA vendors.

It's a beautiful loop that has lead to some nifty advances in microelectronics over the past 25 years.

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Opportunity knocks

I'm not a CNC person, and I don't use Autodesk.

The brand Autodesk seems the perfect fit for this 3DP space, but evidently they don't feel comfortable riding beyond their core business.

The ability to 'print' things from a digital file is an opportunity to amass and leverage an authoritative catalogue of 'profile' knowledge for even expert-level users. How to print skin, solar panels, jello - whatever.

Adobe invented PostScript2 and changed laser printing, but Hewlett-Packard made the printers that used it. Autodesk could be the visionary that leverages 'standards that work,' but it will probably take someone else to build the cool robots and automated workflows that SHOULD be possible from digitally-guided reproduction. Caterpiller? Komatsu? NASA?

A swarm of rovers that can assemble a greenhouse, repurposed with a new file to build a garage. Then a school. ...

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Re: Opportunity knocks

Autodesk could be the visionary that leverages 'standards that work,'

You mean something like G-code? I think it's been done.

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Anonymous Coward

Commoditization

Of course, he could just be shit scared of what would happen if 3D printing really arrived because implicit in that would be commoditizing 3D design.

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Thumb Up

Autodesk finds the 3D Printer thingy - Years Late...

3D solid renderings of engineering drawings have been the flagship of Autodesk Software...for years...

Aircraft engines built, Ships designed, Statue of Liberty fixed, all done without worrying about the odd pipe n the bulkheads all line up... Autodesk does this, really well...for a ton of money...on Engineering Work Station PC's.

NC milling machines, lathes, screw machines n profilers all use spreadsheet XYZ co-ordinates to make stuff... no Autodesk needed for these things to work ok.

3D printers came out the NC machine tool shops...cheap single board computers, home made programming, endless types of media extruders (my Nephew has one for Art Work)...

IMHO= I think the ship has sailed on 3D printers... way too many fab shops exist not needing Autodesk software, worldwide, for Autodesk to make any significant marketshare (by reputation - it would be really nice kit though)...RS.

Q= what does this kit actually cost??

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Re: Autodesk finds the 3D Printer thingy - Years Late...

Have you ever seen a big multi-axis, multi-turret CNC center doing its thing? Very, very simple hobby class CNC machine equipment will happily work with .csv files, but those are basically a Dremel on one of those crane games with the stuffed animal toys and occasionally Moss inside.

Our big five and nine axis machines can take weeks, or even months to program, test and retest before they start working on a project. The tool location, provided by coordinates, sometimes, is the easiest part of programming a CNC machine. You can actually do that directly in AutoCAD.

But where the tool is located is a wee tiniest part of the process. Tool speed, temperature, wear assessment, inspection and in-process rework, turret positioning, in-turret tool positioning, tool change order of operations and in-process deployment pre-operation inspection and traffic management to keep $15M machines from milling themselves into pieces is just the beginning.

Because advanced shops, like ours, have to make a lot of the tooling used with the CNC equipment you've got the aforementioned stuff at 2x or more, because you end up with a wee tiny little CNC machine on the end of auxiliary arms inside the big machine enclosure.

All this stuff is also sending back huge amounts of data that we're processing in real time to determine where trouble spots may have occurred and for post analysis to do it all faster and faster and faster. Because that's (some of) what we're paid to do: Make the machines that make the stuff you buy and it's all about volume and velocity.

But before we even start stocking the equipment we'll run the entire process through the big IBM supercomputer under the building and in a day or three it will show us, hopefully what we missed, and we'll adjust the CNC instructions and run the simulations again. The financial investment has been mind numbingly large, but the task is beyond Humans. Because once we start the machine it might be weeks before it stops again. Stock and finished parts are moved robotically, tooling inventory is automated and even tells the tooling department that they need to make more, or less of something.

We've got to be (fairly) certain the programming is solid because that's where the money is hidden. We're about to feed a procession of $500k custom ordered billets into a giant robot that really has lasers and unless something goes wrong, no Human is going to interact with that robot until it has finished its job. The guys who make it go are making over $1k per day, and I'm sure as fuck not going to pay them to stand around and watch robots do robot stuff. That's what I get to do, I already paid my dues :)

The point in that short article was that when people say CNC they've generally got no idea what that actually entails. Moving a tool around is kind of equivalent to you having a $1 note in your pocket and the whole CNC ecosystem is like a $9 trillion economy. The really cool parts of CNC aren't anything you can see :)

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Translation

What the Autodesk CEO really means: "Since we haven't found a way to lock people in to our software when doing this, we don't think it's worthwhile". They're really the Microsoft (in every negative sense) of the CAD world, but with a much inferior interface and really good lawyers. Personally I think they've only escaped official sanction because they're smaller, and not because of lack of dirty tricks they keep playing.

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Re: Translation

I would have thought that Solidworks is the de-facto 3D CAD package these days anyway. Our lot have even cancelled the Autodesk subscription entirely now, after years of migrating over.

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Re: Translation

They (Autodesk) are worse. Their software will refuse to activate (and they will refuse to help you) only because the version few years old. None of MS systems is that bad - MS may no longer support XP but the system will not refuse to work when installed on new PC.

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Re: Translation

It's a lot more complex than that. Nobody wants a repeat of the global CNC clusterfuck we had in the early 1990's. Hell, it was so bad a lot of people won't even reconsider CNC again. 3D printing is headed down that same road, and it does need to be controlled.

There are two primary misconceptions about any sort of automated manufacturing:

- The 'C' in CNC reduces dependence on machine operators, reducing skill and experience requirements and the cost of operators.

- Models are drawings and once you've got a model you just hit 'Go' and your doodad pops out the other side.

On the operator issue: With robotic production the skill requirements of the machine operators is orders of magnitude higher than with manual production. The efficiencies come in because a single operator can run many machines simultaneously, but he also has a lot more to look out for and his skills at assessing production issues is going to be the difference between a new house or just new curtains.

Software generated machine instructions are always really fucking stupid. They are, sometimes, marginally effective, but usually just stupid. If you can do nothing more than just reorder the individual operation instructions you can reduce machine times, thus cost, by enormous amounts. Saving eight seconds doesn't sound like much, but if you've got enough machines running that eight seconds will let you pull some machines off that line and put them to work on something else. Even if you're a tiny producer you can cut down machine times, just by reordering operations, that you don't have to buy a second or third machine, that's BIG savings.

So your operator needs the process assessment skills if an engineer, the patience of a scientist studying live cultures, the mechanical aptitude of a watchmaker/traditional machinist and a pretty high degree of software understanding. He's going to be really expensive. For small shops, which is where more than 55% of all custom production comes from, employees with the skills those shops need are simply too expensive.

As far as models, that's an art and science only an engineer can love. There are many factors, but materials shrinkage is probably the most challenging for most small shops and individuals. For all but the most simple of things, your model must be built with shrinkage in mind. Your model must be larger than the specced size for your finished product. The more precise you need the part to be, the more difficult shrinkage becomes to deal with. Interactions between two or more components of differing materials need to be assessed before build. Plastics, polymers and composites do not all get along. Some are deadly dangerous if together and exposed to otherwise (mostly) harmless chemicals.

What I'm saying is that instead of a tool and die maker, you're going to have a model maker who has all the traditional tool making skills, plus is highly adept at model manipulation via software. That's an expensive skillset and that assumes they've got a better than average grasp of materials engineering. I've got a variety of plastics and metals specialist engineers just for dealing with materials engineering 'stuff', they don't actually operate machines.

Except for toys there's no getting round the skill sets issue, no matter what kind of technology you toss at the problem. It has taken 20+ years for CNC to become truly widespread and understood by vocational students and most if that is because the hype machine oversold the tech. 3D is headed down that path and the core technology isn't even mature yet. CNC was precise and accurate from the beginning, 3D is 23 billion light years away from that. It'll be very valuable one day, but if hype derails it then that one day just gets further and further out.

And that's just unfortunate and unnecessary.

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Headmaster

>A 3D printer, he said, could care less...

And here is a great example of why this American form makes no sense.

3D printers clearly cannot, and do not, care at all.

At least, not until the singularity.....

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Could care less / couldn't care less

I can comprehend the logic behind most American spellings and many of their idioms, but I must say this one has me stumped.

Saying "I could care less about X" seems to completely contradict the intent of the statement. The intent is to say "I don't care about X / the amount of interest I have in X is zero." So saying you could care less implies that you actually do care to at least some extent, because there is a lesser amount of interest you could have in the topic.

Saying "I couldn't care less about X" is the logical form. It states that there is no lesser amount of interest in X you could exhibit, therefore your interest in it is zero. It doesn't contradict the intent of the statement.

Any of our American friends care to enlighten me on what the thinking is with this one?

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Re: Could care less / couldn't care less

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=om7O0MFkmpw

Couldn't have said it better myself.

Or maybe I could have.

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Re: Could care less / couldn't care less

As soon as I read it I was thinking of this :)

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Facepalm

Re: Could care less / couldn't care less

It's probably meant to mean the same as the original 'couldn't care less', only even more so - like the equally moronic 'irregardless'. Better not go down that rabbit hole though - I swear I'm a really nice person, but you wont like me when I'm angry...

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Useful diagram contained herein:

http://tywkiwdbi.blogspot.co.uk/2009/02/could-care-less-or-couldnt-care-less.html

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Re: Useful diagram contained herein:

From the attached article:

When taken literally, the phrase I could care less means “I care more than I might,” rather than “I don’t care at all.” But the beauty of sarcasm is that it can turn meanings on their head, thus allowing could care less to work as an equivalent for couldn’t care less. Because of its sarcasm, could care less is more informal than its negative counterpart

Sarcasm my arse.

Nothing more than a rather transparent and somewhat pathetic attempt to weasel out of admitting he doesn't understand the nonsense spewing from his own mouth.

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Re: Could care less / couldn't care less

Err, "won't" maybe.

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As if...

Any of our American friends care to enlighten me on what the thinking is with this one?

When I was a wee lad, or some time thereabout, the general form was: 'as if I could care' or regionally 'because I could care?'. Over time these became commingled with 'I couldn't care less' and was shortened to become multiple distinct forms. One being, as you point out, the incorrect 'I could care less'. Ather being the much more terse and unclear 'as if' or 'because' which went on to carry multiple yet slightly different meanings. Today 'as if' generally addresses something claimed by someone else being short for "As if you could [do what was claimed]". The single word question 'because?' is a short form of "Are you telling me this because I could care less?" which implies the person telling you must think you could or should care and in the case of the latter they should get to the point of explaining why.

All of that said, I've used all forms in different situations with different people as each conveys a slightly different mood. One generally wouldn't say 'as if' to the boss and it's most often reserved to tweens and teens, well perhaps the t[w]eens of yesteryear.

Disirregardlessly, in the end it's a flammable inflammable topic.

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Re: Could care less / couldn't care less

How did I miss that? (well because I never go to youtube and I'm not on facebook)

That just wasted an hour

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@Eddy Ito Re: As if...

Thanks for that Eddy, your explanation does clear it up for me. In fact, it almost seems obvious in hindsight when you think about it: "As if I could care less! (Yeah, right!)" When considered from the sarcastic context with the "As if" prepended to it, it suddenly makes sense.

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Boffin

I agree

Everyone knows we don't need more then 640K and the Internet thing is just a fad

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Re: I agree

And that other one. Something about the world not needing more than 5 computers.

Help me out with that please, someone. I'm sure I didn't imagine it.

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I think Mr Carl Bass is making the same mistake Steve Balmer did with tablets

The average man/woman on the street are the same people who build scale models of planes, cars, dolls, do crafting, projects fixing things around the house, and fixing broken appliances etc. Give them a new market where people sell 3D files for all these projects online and average people buy them, print and build them...I think it would be big for at least hobbyists. It might even draw more people into the hobby realm. Add to that the need for replacement parts for broken devices and appliances which people could get from manufactures as 3D files online then print themselves without having to wait weeks to get in the mail and the benefit to manufactures for not having to warehouse that physical inventory...I think the impact of 3D printing is much bigger than Mr. Carl Bass thinks.

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Re: I think Mr Carl Bass is making the same mistake Steve Balmer did with tablets

@tempemeaty

The odd thing is that Autodesk have software for that exact market - 123D. It's free (at the moment) but in wide use so it would seem that they are trying to expand 3D printing in the home and for small businesses.

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Re: I think Mr Carl Bass is making the same mistake Steve Balmer did with tablets

There's one problem with this approach. Scale.

Think about it. You can go and buy a nice model aeroplane for, say, 50 quid, then put it together.

3D printing would allow you to print the same nice model aeroplane for, say, 25 quid, plus up-front cost of 5,000. That's not including energy prices, though, and if it takes days to print at several hundred watts of power, it's starting to get a little ineffective.

Worse still, you have to file off the bits sticking out, then wonder why the wings are uneven.

3D printing at a local shop will be a different matter. Let's say a plastic part failed in some appliance (say, a washing machine latch). The manufacturer will either say they don't stock spares, or they'll try to force you to buy the latch assembly, or the whole door, or at the very least, sell you the plastic bit, but charge 20% of a new washing machine.

One of the reasons is that you have to use the 3D printer regularly for the resin to not clog the nozzles. I had the rather sobering experience of using epoxy two weeks ago when it cured in the mixing nozzle within two minutes of being squeezed into it. I think 3D printers use thermal compound for this, but there are two problems with it -- if it doesn't re-plasticize after being warmed, you have to clean out the nozzle mechanically or use solvents, and either of these methods may damage the delicate nozzle. If it does re-plasticize, there's the question how you can heat all pipes that hold it and whether it will be stable in any useful application.

That might be exactly what Carl Bass implied all along -- 3D printing won't be ubiquitous at home, but local businesses will be built around it for sure.

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Re: I think Mr Carl Bass is making the same mistake Steve Balmer did with tablets

Most 3D printers use the same basic plumbing used in lots of different injection molding and multistage coating application systems we use in production manufacturing. It was pretty well established a long time ago that manually screwing around with cleaning that 'last mile' between the materials hoppers and the application heads wasn't financially prudent.

With that in mind, a variety of solutions were developed. Some machines have self cleaning plumbing where the appropriate solvent is pumped in from a reservoir and pumped out into the HAZMAT system for disposal. Even if it were more affordable, most hobbyists and small manufacturers are exposing themselves and others to very dangerous things they really have no business mucking about with. It's so very easy to really get hurt with those things, and no hobby or small business is worth the risk.

With all but our smallest system we have a second process where that 'last mile' is removed entirely and replaced with another set of plumbing that will go into an outbuilding for cleaning and prep. We used to just throw it out and replace it after use, but as we've grown a seperate cleaning facility and line were financially justified. Which leads me to my next point.

3D printing is neat, but even the highest end systems are fairly rude constructs compared to traditional, middle of the road manufacturing equipment. I believe 3D has a future, and the tech will certainly improve, but precision, accuracy and capacity are just a tiny part of where the money is made in manufacturing.

It's quite like a farm where you know how much (mostly) your product is going to sell for, and you make your money by introducing efficiencies that lower your cost of production. Most, straight manufacturing, where no design or engineering is done by the manufacturer does not allow for much latitude in market pricing. Basically that means you can't raise your costs (much) to increase revenue and margins. Competition is too stiff and everybody has basically the same capacities.

So you've got to have machines that provide you with efficiencies that suit your operation. Here at my place the operators command a significant salary and for years it was cheaper to throw out those 'last mile' assemblies and replace them after every run because those guys cost too much to stand around cleaning tubes. But for other operations it may be cheaper to pay somebody to maintain those parts. It's those things, and the decisions you make in addressing them that determines if you can make any money at manufacturing. There are few universals and every facility is basically a one off.

At present, 3D printer vendors are way behind the curve in providing the back end efficiencies that are going to let producers make any money. I do believe it will get there, and I'm not trying to be a downer. But I am saying experienced manufacturing interests are warily interested because none of the real manufacturing quagmires are being addressed yet. There's no ginormous, invisible, second layer of infrastructure and provisioning vendors to provide for even tiny manufacturers. Which is where the big money is going to be. I spend far, far more on 'nuts and bolts' and doodads required for manufacturing every year than I spend on equipment. The margins are in keeping manufacturers like me up and running and it'll be that way in 3D too, if they want it to suceed.

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MarkForged

Nice try, but Autodesk lost my interest in lining their pockets a long time ago.

The MarkForged is interesting. I've been shopping for a printer with a decent long axis and that's just moved to the top of the "ooooh!" list. I'd be tempted to cancel my next L-series lens purchase and pre-order, if only they had samples to show. Honestly, selling a $5k 200 micron printer and they have zero samples to show - just a video with a guy trying to bend a little printed bar. Why is nothing ever simple?

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Re: MarkForged

As I said in my post above, the 3D printing industry is still very immature. That will change over time, but, as you note, they're still pretty lean on even their sales and marketing right now.

I'll tell you how proofs (samples) work when buying traditional machine equipment though, maybe you can apply that to the vendors you're shopping and get some traction (and some proofs).

When shopping CNC equipment, or 3D in this case, the first thing you need to provide is a file of your own and specs and tolerance thresholds you require in the output (this is crucial, explanation below*). A summary of how you expect you'll use the machine.

That 'test package' will provide you with amazing amounts of information. Firstly, it'll tell you a lot about your perspective vendor. If they look at your package and don't think their machine is a good fit they'll tell you then. With CNC you can often expect them to lead you to an alternative, even if it's a competitor, you should get that with your 3D provider too. No machine is all things to all users, you need something that suits your needs.

If somebody tells you their offering does 'everything' equally well call shenanigans and tell them to fuck off. They are either hopelessly naive, or morally corrupt. Some machines have extra easy maintenance routines, some do long parallel operations better, some do curves better, some excel at finishing internal passages, etc... Most machines of a given category will do what you tell them, but they'll all have strong points. Advantages in one area that outshine the others in that category, you want one that does 'your thing' the best. Your vendor should be able to rattle off their high points without hesitation.

You provide them with the info they need and they'll do your sample if their equipment can do it. Manufacturing equipment vendors only get one chance to not deliver. You'll never buy from or recommend them, ever, again. If you've found a good potential vendor they don't want to ruin that chance, so they'll (should) decline if their equipment isn't a good fit.

You've also got to keep in mind that samples are stunningly expensive, simply because they don't fit into an equipment manufacturers business model. Those entities don't typically have much in the way of cash flow. Their money comes in wads and they've got to minimize nickel and dime expenses because they'll eat them up between revenue influx moments. More than a few great machine vendors have died from over supplying samples to everyone who asked. You provide them with proof you're serious (your test package) and they'll be far more likely to do your proofs.

*Explained: Send identical 'test packages' to multiple vendors. You've got to compare 'like vs like' for proofs to be useful. Do your proof inspections consistently and ring the vendors back up and ask them to explain the discrepancies (there WILL be some) and go from there. You're going to be the final judge, obviously, but if you approach the vendors with quantifiable requests they'll be happy to oblige. If not you didn't want them anyway.

^Also, if they simply won't budge on the proof, ask them who in your area has one of their machines. An actual user will like answering your questions plus they want to show off :)

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home usage

What I look forward to is the day when I can download the description file for a recently broken piece of my washing machine and print up the new part.

Or, to a lesser extent, being able to print up a new part of an old thing because it has become brittle or worn away with age.

In the same way that the acquisition of help and manuals was much more tedious before the Internet, so I hope that the replacement of little parts will be so much easier and cheaper with a 3D-printer in years to come.

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Devil

Re: home usage

An admirable sentiment- but much cheaper to not break your washing machine so often?

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Facepalm

Did he just say "I think there is a world market for maybe five 3D printers"?

I mean, he does have sort of a fairly valid point, in that current consumer 3D printers are interesting curiousities, which have yet to find their feet as really solid, indespensible devices. But it would take a brave or foolish man to predict that they will never do so, as he appears to be doing.

GJC

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Unhappy

"And so, having made his dominance felt, perhaps for the last time,

the huge dinosaur returns to the safety of the swamp, the muddied waters helping support his massive bulk in the infirmities of old age. The younger challengers, and predators - they are scattered for now. But inevitably, they will recover their confidence, and return once more..."

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Haven't we heard that before?

"There is no reason anyone would want a computer in their home."

Ken Olsen

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Another shot in the foot methinks....

I seem to remember a head honcho at IBM saying something like..."there probably will only be room for four or five computers in the whole world" or words similar. My thoughts are if you have any shares in Autodesk, sell quick and sell now before they follow Kodak into Chapter 11.........

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He's right and wrong

It's definitely over-hyped. The vast majority of people won't get and aren't interested in it (at least beyond the "oh, that's cool." stage)

But for those who are somewhat creative or engineering types; for those who have (and use) a well stocked shop, it is a vary useful tool. With them getting down to 200 USD* for a monophotolithography printer (http://www.peachyprinter.com/). It's in the realm of a tool I'd buy just to use it a few times. Stereophotolithography is still outside that range, I think, but would even be better. I think it's like VR/AR in a lot of ways... part of the excitement is the rapid drop in price.

*photosensitive resins do cost more then plastic for extrusion machines, but also tends to be much better resolution, and handles over-hangs better.

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Hmmm . . . Autodesk lost out to Solidworks because they ignored the market, so it seems they haven't learned the lesson. I'm a home 3D printer user and have been able to realise projects that have defeated me in the past due to lack of suitable machining resources and many of my colleagues have recognised the advantages, particularly model-makers and hobbyists.

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Coat

I ate a 3D printed ice cream the other day.

It was amazing, the operator held the ice cream cone under the print head and then moved it in small circles whilst lowering it as each layer formed. The whole process took just a few seconds.

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