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Consortium announces new 3D printing file format

13 May 2015  | Ann R. Thryft

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A new consortium that includes leading companies in software, plus 2D printer leader and 3D printer hopeful Hewlett Packard, metals 3D printer gurus SLM Solutions Group and mega-3DP service bureau Shapeways has recently unveiled a new 3D printing (3DP) file format specification.

The 3MF Consortium is making the first version of its 3DP file format, also called 3MF (3D Manufacturing Format), available free. The question, though, is why do we need another file format? True, lots of engineers complain about the numerous limitations of .STL, designed back in 1989. But that's why ASTM International came up with the Additive Manufacturing Format (AMF), right?


A new consortium of industry heavyweights in 3D printing (3DP) software and hardware has launched a new 3DP file format, 3MF. The group said the spec will better and more fully describe a 3D model, will be open, and interoperable with multiple applications, platforms, services and printers. (Source: 3MF Consortium).

Well, no. That's not good enough for the founding members of the new consortium, which also include Dassault Systemes, FIT AG/netfabb GmbH, Microsoft and Autodesk. They say their file format clears up interoperability problems with multiple applications, platforms, services and printers, and makes it possible to send full-fidelity 3D models to all of them. The starting point for the initial specification is the 3D file format Microsoft has been working on, which will be developed further by the group.

"3MF will align CAD software and 3D printing hardware and software in a more information-rich file format, specifically designed to support the needs of modern 3D printing throughout the entire printing process," said the consortium's executive director Adrian Lannin.

Before the end of the year, several more additions are expected to be made to the new standard. The consortium's goal is a 3DP file format that is interoperable and open; can fully describe a model and retain characteristics such as internal information and colour; is extensible so it can support new innovations in 3D printing; is "practical, simple to understand and easy to implement;" and is "free of the issues inherent in other widely used file formats."

That sounds like a pretty tall order for any standard, not to mention one as complex as a 3DP file format, and not to mention the fact that the last two items are vague and undefined. But this group includes some very big heavyweights with lots of available expertise, time and resources. They also say that the idea for the group, and the spec, came from discussions about how to get their products to work better together. Lots of industry standards in other technical fields have been born out of this very process, so if anyone's got a chance of making this happen, these guys do.

The consortium also has outside funding: the Joint Development Foundation, a non-profit that provides the legal agreements and corporate structure to help groups launch specifications projects.

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