3MF Consortium Hopes to Standardize 3D Print Formats

By on May 3rd, 2015 in Software

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Several key 3D print-related companies announced a new consortium focused on promoting a new, more powerful 3D model file format: 3MF. 

The trigger for this move is, of course, the inadequacy of the de facto standard 3D printing format, STL. We’ve talked of it’s issues previously, but in brief, it is a format that does not fully describe a 3D model and can easily introduce model errors.  Yes, you can actually produce a valid STL file that contains an invalid 3D model – and this happens ever single day. 

The major previous attempt to rectify the situation resulted in the development of AMF (Additive Manufacturing Format), a comprehensive file format solution that addressed all of the issues. However, after more than two years, this solution has yet to be adopted by more than a scant handful of 3D software tools. 

Now we see the 3MF consortium bring forward a new file format that could replace STL. Originally designed by Microsoft, 3MF’s key features include: 

  • An XML package of informational components, rather than a “single file”
  • Interoperable, at least potentially, between participating vendors
  • Images of the 3D model for thumbnail purposes
  • Digital signatures to ensure the package has not been tampered with
  • Embedded textures to color the model surfaces
  • A “Print Ticket” contains default information about intended printing configuration
  • Consistent definition of top, bottom, left and right
  • List of resources that could include, for example, different materials (and colors)
  • Handles concept of multiple components comprising one build operation
  • Requirement for “solid” 3D models that have manifold edges, consistent triangle orientation and direction (meaning a valid 3D model)
  • Rules for how intersecting meshes should be resolved

So far the members of the consortium include:

  • Autodesk & Dassault Systemes, makers of 3D design software
  • NetFabb, maker of 3D model repair and manipulation software
  • Shapeways, a popular 3D print service
  • HP and SLM Solutions, manufacturers of 3D printing equipment
  • and Microsoft, who, well, um. They don’t really do anything much in 3D printing aside from organizing this standard and including it in the latest release of Windows

Will this effort succeed? Maybe. It all depends on whether the standard is adopted widely. The fate of AMF was sealed when no major players adopted it, but here we have at least a few who apparently will adopt 3MF. Most notably is Autodesk, who produce a large number of 3D software products. 

The question is whether others will engage. Notables not currently supporting 3MF include:

  • 3D Systems
  • Stratasys / MakerBot
  • Ultimaker, Solidoodle, Robo3D / and all other personal equipment manufacturers
  • EOS, VoxelJet, ExOne, ARCAM and all other industrial equipment manufacturers
  • All other commercial 3D software makers
  • The open source community

We think 3MF may have a very big challenge yet, but they’ve gone farther than any other standard since STL emerged. 

Via 3MF Consortium

By Kerry Stevenson

Kerry Stevenson, aka "General Fabb" has written over 8,000 stories on 3D printing at Fabbaloo since he launched the venture in 2007, with an intention to promote and grow the incredible technology of 3D printing across the world. So far, it seems to be working!