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The New STL

3MF File Format (3D Printing) – Simply Explained

Picture of Ricardo Pires
by Ricardo Pires
Oct 8, 2018

Ever gone mad over an STL file that was crazily processed by your slicing program? Do we have good news for you. Read on to find out more on the relatively new 3MF file format.

3MF File Format What Is It?

Image of: What Is It?
Source: 3MF Consortium

The 3D manufacturing format (3MF) is a relatively new file format set to be a new standard in the area of additive manufacturing that allows higher interoperability between 3D modeling software and other applications, platforms, services, and printers.

According to the 3MF Consortium, the core properties of the 3MF file format are the following:

  • Completeness: All of the necessary model, material and property information is contained in a single archive.
  • Human readability: Common structures, such as OPC, ZIP, and XML, are used to ease development.
  • Simplicity: The specification is short and clear, making development easy and validation fast.
  • Extensibility: Leveraging XML namespaces allows for both public and private extensions while maintaining compatibility.
  • Unambiguity: Clear language and conformance tests ensure a file is always consistent from digital to physical.
  • Accessibility: Access to and implementation of the 3MF specification is and will always be free of royalties, patents and licensing.

3MF File Format Why Is It Needed?

Image of: Why Is It Needed?
Source: CGTrader

Currently, there are many file formats for rendering digital objects, including STL, AMF, OBJ, VRML, PLY, ZPR, and ZBD, to name a few. Although they all aim to describe objects in a 3D coordinate system, they’re not all equally geared towards manufacturing objects. Additionally, not all have the correct set of features to permit development and communication across different platforms.

Perhaps the most common 3D model format, STL was developed by 3D Systems in 1987 alongside stereolithography, the first 3D printing technology. At that time, all that was required of a 3D printing file format was to store the shape of an object using a triangular mesh in a 3D coordinate system. The 3D printing industry was new, and it wasn’t yet certain that additional technologies would emerge.

Since then, as we now know, additive manufacturing has evolved in a spectacular way. The technological advancements, especially the simultaneous handling of different colors and materials, require files that store more than just a shape.

Furthermore, the increasing interdependence between hardware and software manufacturers as well as service providers enhances the need for higher interoperability, where information is not ambiguous nor lacking fidelity.

The 3MF file format seeks to bring all these different needs together in a single file.

3MF File Format A History

A few of the companies that make up the consortium.
A few of the companies that make up the consortium. Source: 3MF Consortium

The development of the 3MF file format has its roots in an open standard called additive manufacturing file format (AMF). It was created as part of an effort by Microsoft to provide support for 3D printing in its Windows OS. Later, Microsoft realized that there were several problems that hindered interoperability.

Following talks with leading industry players, the 3MF consortium was born in 2015. Among others, it originally included companies such as Autodesk, Dassault Systèmes, 3D Systems, EOS, and Stratasys. Since then, the consortium has only grown to include many other companies.

Today, 1 operating system, 5 service platforms, and 19 software applications support the development and implementation of 3MF. Officially, the consortium does not aim to grow any further, instead remaining a small group dedicated to modeling. In their words, “the industry is already well represented and keeping the group small keeps the pace of innovation up.” Meanwhile, 3MF is open source and can be adopted by any company willing to do so, without needing to become part of the consortium.

License: The text of "3MF File Format (3D Printing) – Simply Explained" by All3DP is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

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