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Autodesk is no longer focusing exclusively on software for designing real places and things — it’s jumping into hardware business.

Chief executive Carl Bass announced Autodesk’s plans to build its first 3D printer, along with a new Spark platform for connecting hardware and software, in a blog post today. Designed with businesses in mind, the device will cost several thousand dollars when it becomes available in the second half of this year, according to the post.

But the goal might not be what you think.

“We don’t necessarily expect to be in the top three 3D printing manufacturers,” an Autodesk spokesman said in an interview with VentureBeat. “There are great companies out there, and we want to see a lot more great companies come into the market.”

Today’s move boils down to making 3D printing more accessible, as the technology is still in early stages. It has a lot of buzz as well, approaching the “peak of inflated expectations” on Gartner’s hype cycle for emerging technologies last July, with its plateau about five to 10 years away.

HP Labs has been working on 3D printing as well, and it only makes sense for HP, a major vendor in consumer and business printing, to enter the 3D market. Such a move could come later this year — and now Autodesk appears ahead in the run toward commercialization. In the coming months, the design software maker will announce partnerships with other companies that make 3D printers, or companies that haven’t released actual devices yet, the spokesman said.

Autodesk’s own printer will serve as a reference design. No wonder chief executive Carl Bass likened today’s moves in interviews to Google building its first Nexus smartphone and showcasing the Android operating system, for which many hardware makers have since built devices.

The company is eyeing new customers with today’s initiative, but Autodesk could certainly target companies that pay for the company’s own 3D printing software, like Inventor and 3DS MAX. So clearly, useful hardware from Autodesk should play well into the company’s longer-term strategy to sell software. Autodesk’s licensing and subscription revenue and other revenue for the fiscal year that ended on Jan. 31 came out to $2.27 billion, according to its latest annual report.

Autodesk started working on the hardware initiative by establishing a small team about a year ago, the spokesman said. Bass talked about introducing the one device this year, but Autodesk hasn’t ruled out expanding the lines with more models that might target different markets.

Individuals could buy one of the new printers if they want to, the Autodesk spokesman told VentureBeat, although they should be prepared to pay more than $1,000. But a sub-$1,000 printer could be a bit closer now, as vendors might not have to spend so much time developing hardware and software that can hook into existing systems.

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