Source3 announced they’ve just joined the 3MF consortium, but this made me ponder whether this is something others should do, too.
But first, a recap: 3MF is a consortium of key players in the 3D print world that are attempting to promote a new file format standard to enable more seamless exchange of 3D print information between platforms and services. This idea, successful, would put serious dents in the current problems of “walled gardens” and aging, no-longer-terrific file formats. It’s a bold idea that will take many years to take hold, even if successful.
Source3 evidently decided they should join the consortium, and it makes sense for their business. And what’s their business, you ask? They provide a platform for serving licensed 3D content to a variety of 3D platforms. In other words, a content owner, say a movie production house, or sports team, could safely deploy their 3D content though Source3’s system to consumers who request prints that take place on a variety of 3D print service bureaus.
In other words, their business is all about exchanging files between services. It makes much sense for them to get involved with 3MF.
Specifically, they joined as an “Associate Member”. It turns out that 3MF offers two types of membership: associate and “Founding Member”. The difference seems to be that the founding members have a say as to the nature of the specific file formats and protocols involved, whereas the Associate Members are provided access to the 3MF specifications and updates.
Associate Membership costs USD$1,000 per year. I’m not certain what the charge is for Founding Members, but it’s a lot more than that.
Who should join 3MF? I see three tiers of participation:
First tier is Founding Members, who are typically large companies with a significant interest in ensuring the formats and protocols are applicable, implementable and efficient on their particular platforms. I currently see hardware companies (like Stratasys, 3D Systems, Ultimaker and Siemens), software companies (like Autodesk, Dassault Systems/Solidworks and Microsoft), as well as service bureaus (like Shapeways and Materialise) on the list. For them, if 3MF becomes a true, well-used standard, it’s critical for them to be involved. Their investment in 3MF is almost like an insurance policy that ensures things go their way.
The second tier would be providers who aren’t particularly interested in the details of the formats per se, but are definitely interested in using them as soon as possible. This is where Source3 lands. I don’t have a list of Associate Members, but you can bet it includes many forward-thinking 3D software companies and lesser service bureaus. They need to participate to ensure their products will have the earliest deployment of 3MF when it’s ready.
The third tier is everyone else, who will eventually begin using 3MF as designed by the first tier and implemented by the first and second tiers. In many cases, people may not even be aware they’re using 3MF technology, as it could be entirely behind the scenes. In other cases, it will be front and center.
Should you join 3MF? If you’re a 3D software company, definitely. If you’re a 3D printer manufacturer or a service bureau, definitely. If you’re a user of 3D technology, well, just stay tuned a bit longer.