Software developer Autodesk announced yesterday that it will invest up to $100 million in the burgeoning 3D-printing sector. Through its new Spark Investment Fund, the company will provide financial support as well as marketing and developer services to entrepreneurs and researchers looking to evolve the industry. Autodesk is now accepting applications online. The platform’s partners include automobile-centric hardware developer Local Motors, hyper-local 3D-printing service provider network 3D Hubs, and intellectual property and quality assurance partner Authentise.

The news follows Autodesk’s launch earlier this year of Spark, a free and open-source platform that streamlines communication among a wide range of modeling programs, materials, and printers.

Together, the announcements signal interest by the AEC software developer—whose current market cap is about $13.9 billion, compared to $4.14 billion for 3D Systems and $5.84 billion for Stratasys—in carving out a space for itself in the market for additive manufacturing products and services. Research firm Canalys forecasts that the sector will increase by 45.7% annually from 2013 to value $16.2 billion in 2018. Gartner predicts that shipments of 3D printers will double annually from 2015 to 2018 and reach 2.3 million shipments that year.

In an interview with 3DPrint in September, Autodesk’s chief technology officer, Jeff Kowalski, said the Spark platform and the company’s work on a 3D printer aims to continue the company's focus on the user experience of advanced design software. “We hope to take that same kind of success that we have shown there and bring it into 3D printing so that we can make 3D printing something that is a lot more natural, easy, less daunting, and far more effective and reliable than it used to be,” he said.