Aug 2, 2016 | By Benedict

The 3MF Consortium, a group of industry professionals working to define the new “3MF” 3D printing format, has today released two specification extensions to its 3MF Core Specification 1.1. The 3MF Production Extension and 3MF Slice Extension are available to download immediately.

For most 3D printer users, the STL remains the key file format for additive manufacturing. Universal and ubiquitous, the 3D Systems-pioneered “STereoLithography” format has become as synonymous with 3D printing as the MP3 has to digital audio. Despite its popularity, however, the STL format has been criticized for its limitations. For example, a standard STL file does not contain color or material property information, nor does it save mesh topology, leading to rounding errors and ambiguity. It is therefore no surprise to see companies proposing new formats for 3D printing in the hope of replacing both the STL and the less common AMF with a more practical alternative.

Leading the 3D printing file format revolution is the 3MF Consortium, a group of tech giants which lists Microsoft, Autodesk, HP, and Shapeways amongst its ranks and which advocates the global adoption of 3MF, a new 3D printing format which “allows design applications to send full-fidelity 3D models to a mix of other applications, platforms, services and printers” while avoiding the problems commonly associated with the STL and AMF formats. Since its launch in 2015, the consortium has sought to develop a new additive manufacturing format which is:

  • Complete: Containing all necessary model, material and property information in a single archive
  • Human readable: Using common structures such as OPC, ZIP, and XML to ease development
  • Simple: A short, clear specification, making development easy and validation fast
  • Extensible: Leveraging XML namespaces allow for both public and private extensions while maintaining compatibility
  • Unambiguous: Clear language and conformance tests ensure a file is always consistent from digital to physical
  • Free: Royalty-free, patent-free, and license-free

In its continued efforts to make 3MF as efficient as possible in high-volume additive manufacturing facilities, the 3MF Consortium today released two extensions to its 3MF Core Specification 1.1: the The 3MF Production Extension and the 3MF Slice Extension, both designed to provide better integration and management of 3D printing operations in high-volume facilities.

“The 3MF Production and 3MF Slice Extensions to our core specification are significant enhancements that move the industry closer to a fully integrated, high-volume additive manufacturing end-to-end 3D printing solution,” said Adrian Lannin, executive director of the 3MF Consortium. “Release of specifications like these aligns with the 3MF Consortium's mission to help improve the efficiency and productivity of additive manufacturing solutions with standardized software.”

3MF Production Extension

The 3MF Production Extension was created to help users organize and manage multiple 3D print jobs more easily and efficiently. The extension does this by separating the multiple parts of large print jobs into separate .xml files within the 3MF package, dividing the parsing load for large jobs. The 3MF package manages file hierarchy and relationships while keeping unique identifiers for each part instance. The consortium sees this extension as being particularly useful for high-volume users such as service bureaus.

3MF Slice Extension

The 3MF Slice Extension provides a single, standardized format for defining slices, greatly simplifying the slicing process for manufacturers. With STL and AMF formats, users have have had to acquire slicing software and match it to their 3D printer of choice in order to prepare a file for 3D printing. The 3MF Slice Extension removes that need, eliminating a sometimes lengthy step in the 3D printing workflow.

“High-volume additive manufacturing requires practical software that simplifies the 3D design and manufacturing process while fully describing a model, retaining internal information, color, and other characteristics,” said Alexander Oster, chairman of the 3MF Technical Working Group and director of additive manufacturing at Autodesk. “These extensions were developed to solve in a clear, straightforward manner two critical interoperability issues impacting efficiency and manageability in today's additive manufacturing facilities.”

Inkjet printing stalwart HP, which entered the 3D printing industry this year with its HP Jet Fusion 3D printer, has been a prominent advocate of the 3MF format. The Jet Fusion 3D printer, which uses an open materials platform, became the first commercial machine to be fully compliant with the new standard, and its manufacturer believes the new extensions will help users to get the most out of the super-fast machine.

“We believe there will be slice-based operations that can take advantage of the Slice Extension to help drive consistency and interoperability between applications and machines going forward,” said Russell Castronovo, Head of Product Communications at HP. “HP has fully implemented both extensions in our first products and we are working with industry partners to ensure adoption of the extensions in their products as well.”

Both 3MF Extensions are available to download immediately.

3MF Consortium founding members:

  • 3D Systems
  • Autodesk, Inc.
  • Dassault Systèmes, SA.
  • FIT AG
  • GE Global Research
  • HP, Inc.
  • MaterialiseMicrosoft Corporation
  • Shapeways, Inc.
  • Siemens PLM Software
  • SLM Solutions Group AG
  • Stratasys
  • Ultimaker



Posted in 3D Printing Applications



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