First AMF File Format Tool Under Development, But Is It Too Late?

By on June 2nd, 2022 in news, Software

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Editing an AMF 3D model in Shapefish [Source: Avante Technology]

A software tool to manage AMF 3D files is being developed.

Hold on, “AMF”? Don’t you mean “3MF”?

Nope. AMF.

AMF is the ISO/ASTM approved file format for additive manufacturing, as per ISO/ASTM 52915. It was developed over several years to improve upon the aging and now ineffective STL file format typically used by software in the 3D space.

The AMF file format standard was first announced in May of 2020 by the ISO.

But there’s a problem, and it’s called 3MF.

The original STL format was invented by necessity back in the 1980s to allow the very first 3D printers to operate, and it rapidly became the de facto standard for the industry. Virtually all software involved in 3D printing used the STL format for import, export and processing. It was the universal format that bridged between the CAD world and the GCODE world of 3D printer hardware.

Except it really sucked. There are a ton of issues with the old STL format, not the least of which is that it is actually possible to define invalid 3D models, hence the need for “STL Repair” tools. STL also does not provide any means for describing additional aspects of the 3D model, such as versions, colors, materials, etc.

Several attempts were made to replace STL with something better, but most faded away as they didn’t gather sufficient support to turn the tide away from STL.

Then 3MF emerged in 2015, which solved a number of the STL issues, and it was backed by a consortium of powerful entities, including software giant Microsoft. Specifications for 3MF were first released to the public in 2018, allowing the use of the new format. Microsoft included 3MF by default into its own software and platforms, and at that point the winds started to shift.

Today we see several commonly used 3D software tools beginning to adopt 3MF alongside STL, and it would appear that STL would eventually be replaced by 3MF over time. Even popular tools such as Ultimaker Cura and PrusaSlicer have now adopted 3MF.

In the middle of all this, ISO/ASTM comes up with AMF, years after 3MF specifications were released.

At this point you’d think that AMF doesn’t have a chance. The industry took literally a decade to grudgingly begin a very slow switchover to 3MF, only after considerable nagging. Would the industry welcome ANOTHER format switch? Likely not.

But then there’s another thing to consider: AMF literally is an ISO/ASTM standard. No other attempt at fixing the STL problem can say that, including 3MF.

Because AMF is part of the ISO/ASTM standards, there are many other ISO/ASTM standards that refer to AMF and perhaps even require it.

The implication here is that in the future, whenever that may happen, an organization hoping to obtain ISO certification for their AM operation just may require the use of AMF in their process. That’s a pull towards AMF that no other attempt at a file standard has.

My thought is that in spite of the burgeoning popularity of 3MF, it is likely that AMF will gradually grow in popularity over the long term. We’ll see it added to popular 3D tools, one by one, over a long period, alongside STL and 3MF.

Screenshot from Shapefish , an AMF-compatible software tool [Source: Avante Technology]

But can you even use AMF right now? It turns out you will be able to do so soon. Avante Technology has informed us they are actively developing a product called “ShapeFish”.

CEO Bob Zollo explains:

“ShapeFish AMF File Manager is the first commercial software that makes it easy to adopt and use AMF as it was intended.  It converts STL files to AMF and validates compliance with the ISO standard. Just as important, it provides an easy to use interface to exploit the capabilities of AMF to optimize complex mesh files for printing, and leverage the ability to use 13 types of embedded meta-data to improve work flow efficiency and optimize print quality.

Examples include: editing of units of measure and tolerances, assignment of multiple colors and materials by component, defining the exact positioning of each part in a complex assembly, unique part ID’s, IP information, version number by component, and much more.”

Shapefish has not yet been released, but my understanding is that it’s in development and will be released at some point in the future. You can see a couple of screenshots from the tool in this story. Watch Avante Technology’s website for any announcements. It could be a good way to begin working with AMF files.

While Shapefish might be the first AMF tool, it certainly won’t be the last.

Via Avante Technology

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!

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