3MF new file format
During the AMUG 2015 Awards Banquet the gathered users gave the founding father of 3D Printing, Chuck Hull, an enduring and heartfelt standing ovation. Chuck is recognised as not only the inventor of the hardware that has turned this industry into a billion dollar one, but perhaps his most enduring legacy to those in the know, those giving the applause, was the file format that has stood up to three decades worth of hardware innovation.
The STL file has seen off many challengers but it is about to do battle once more with perhaps its most fierce ever challenger in the shape of 3MF - a file format launched by a consortium of the same name consisting, so far, of Dassault Systèmes S.A.; FIT AG/netfabb GmbH; Microsoft Corporation; HP; Shapeways, Inc.; SLM Solutions Group AG; and Autodesk Inc.
The 3MF Consortium suggests that the STL file format has been out-dated by advances in 3D Printing hardware and software. The 3MF file format will be more information rich with details on manufacturing data like texture, colour and materials all built into its data.
TCT spoke to Justin Kidder, Director of Graphics and Software Architecture at Dassault Systèmes SolidWorks Corporation about the CAD conglomerate’s involvement in the new file format:
Q: How and why did Dassault become involved in this venture?
A: In Solidworks 2015 we released some functionality that was supported in Windows 8.1 that allowed direct 3D printing. Microsoft used a driver model whereby printer manufacturers would write drivers and then software packages like ourselves were able to send data through the drivers straight to the printer. That’s how we initiated a relationship with Microsoft around 3D Printing, when they later decided to use what they’d learnt from this native printing and spin that off into a file format we were one of the first companies that they approached to help turn 3MF into the consortium is it today.
Q: What are the real benefits of using 3MF as opposed to another format?
A: It is a very complete file format; as well as containing data about geometry it contains data about colours, textures and other manufacturing information that is required for 3D printing. The fact that it is industry backed and is an open format – it is freely available for everyone to use now - makes it a huge step up from the previous de facto standard that is STL.
Q: The information from the consortium is that 3MF is an answer to hardware and software developments that STL can’t handle, could you give us a specific example?
A: The HP machine is a good example of a hardware moving beyond the current file formats and there are plenty of other machines that are able to print in colour. Colour is a very simple example of a 3D printing property that STL can’t handle; it was never built to handle colour. Hardware capabilities are a large part of what is driving the 3MF standard. In addition to what has already been published the consortium is also looking at upcoming developments and talking to other consortium members in looking to see what other kinds of data is required to have a full manufacturing description in the 3MF file.
Q: What will be the benefits for a SOLIDWORKS user in implementing the file format?
A: When it comes to 3MF we tend to think of it in terms of producers and consumers; the 3D printer companies are consumers of 3MF data and the CAD companies are the producers of the data. We take our CAD models and associated manufacturing information and produce a 3MF file from that. What we foresee going forward is that we will be able to save a CAD model along with its colours, textures, material information, print job ordering, different metadata etc. to a single 3MF file that is to be consumed by a 3D printer without having to have a lot of back-and-forth between the designers, software engineers and operators of the 3D printer.