The 3MF Consortium released two interesting specification extensions that are designed to make life much easier for production environments.
Background: 3MF is an industry consortium supported by a wide range of important players in the 3D printing industry. Its purpose is to develop new technical standards to define 3D printing elements that simplify work and fill gaps in previous standards.
Their standard is still new and is included in released software by only a few companies yet, but its promise is grand. Current defacto standards used in the 3D printing world are confusing, disconnected and deficient in many features. In fact, the primary file format used to describe a 3D model for 3D printing is still STL, developed decades ago.
There are two new specification extensions. The first deals with production capabilities. The “3MF Production Extension” enables a collection of parts to be split into a series of separate XML files. This enables parallel processing on the separate files to speed handling.
This is important for production facilities, as the common practice is to bundle as many parts into each print job as possible, sometimes with dozens of separate parts within a build chamber. Production operations are all about efficiency and this extension directly addresses that need.
The second specification extension is the “3MF Slice Extension”, which, for the very first time, defines a 3D print “slice”. 3MF explains:
Until now, there was no standard means to define slices, leading to a proliferation of proprietary solutions where the software needed to be matched to the particular hardware being used. This approach increased the likelihood of print problems and lengthened the amount of time it took to prepare the print workflow. The 3MF Slice Extension solves this problem by providing a single, standardized format for defining slices. This simplifies processes for manufacturers, ensuring that they are working with data that is readily understandable and consistent.
These two extensions are good news, and I have two thoughts about them.
First, it seems that like the rest of the industry, 3MF is also focusing on the application of 3D printing; in this case it’s production services. Many manufacturers have had to switch their focus from “we have the best 3D printer” to more of “here’s how this machine makes your business better”.
The second thought is that such standards are useless unless they are actually implemented. This means that all the most commonly used software in the 3D print world would have to include 3MF in their systems. That’s a very hard thing to do, given that most software companies are swamped with user requests to enhance the existing functions, let alone add new 3MF capabilities. On open source projects, someone would have to have sufficient interest to go to the trouble of building the required software changes.
Both of these only happen if there is a growing and widespread interest in adopting standards. It’s going to take many loud voices and probably a few “mandatory requirements” on corporate software requests for proposals to make things happen.
But I’m sure they will, eventually.