Say goodbye STL, say hello 3MF (possibly – you know how these things are…)

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The new 3MF file format is setting out to become the new unified file format that plays more closely to the design process

Microsoft is all over 3D printing, hanging out with its new bezzie mate Autodesk to put its Spark product straight into Windows 10 and starting up a new file format 3MF especially for the technology.

During its Build Developer Conference keynote, Microsoft announced that it will be partnering with Autodesk to incorporate the Spark platform into Windows 10, “accelerating the future of digital and physical 3D creation”, looking to make 3D printing a more useful and reliable experience for businesses and individuals alike.

Part of this is the new 3D printing file format 3MF – part of the outcome of a new 3MF Consortium, featuring our two aforementioned buddies, and the likes of Dassault Systèmes, HP, SLM Solutions, FIT AG (Netfabb) and Shapeways.

The 3MF Consortium members

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The aim is to set out a new unified file format that plays more closely to the design process, aiming to print straight from one file, with no data loss, while the 3D files can be used for other applications and on other platforms with ease.

We’re not exactly short on file formats already. AMF, STL, OBJ and VRML are already in play, while AMF has been lurking around for a while now promising to be the ‘next big thing’.

IGES and STEP files are also commonly used for sharing 3D data, but it’s not easily transferrable to a 3D printer.

The 3MF format is designed to be the complete model information contained within a single archive: mesh, textures, materials, colours and print ticket.

Transforms and object references are said to be supported, with multiple objects contained within the single archive, while single objects can be referenced or moved without changing the mesh, and multiple identical objects placed referencing the same mesh.

“The communication between software and hardware for 3D printing needs improvement. Currently, design information isn’t communicated in a way that gets the most out of the materials and printing hardware,” explained Samir Hanna, VP and GM, Consumer and 3D Printing, Autodesk.

“We’re proud to be a founding member of the 3MF Consortium and eager to lend our expertise with Spark, our open 3D printing platform, towards a new 3D printing file format that unlocks the tremendous promise of this technology.”

Whether the consortium gets 3MF to take off and topple the dominant usage of STL remains to be seen. However, STL has its limitations, and if 3MF can do all it promises, and the Consortium hold itself together (there’s some stringent guidelines in the contracts), then we’ve high hopes.

Steve Guggenheimer, corporate VP of developer platform and chief evangelist for Microsoft (double evangelist!) puts it this way:
“We’re approaching a tipping point with 3D printing, which means there is a huge market opportunity waiting for companies developing applications for Windows 10.

“By providing the 3D printing building blocks found in the Spark platform and optimising it for Windows 10, Autodesk has empowered our global developer community to confidently enter this new world of additive manufacturing.”

If you’re more interested, then the 3MF core specification and reference guide can be found here.