3D Software

MachineWorks’ Polygonica software now supports 3MF 3D printing file format

UK-based software firm MachineWorks has released a new piece of example source code supporting the 3MF file format on Polygonica, the firm’s polygon-mesh modeling software engine.

Since its launch in 1987 by 3D Systems, STL has been and still is the industry-standard 3D file format in additive manufacturing. The mesh-based architecture is widely considered outdated, suffering from excessively large file sizes and geometric imprecisions, but we still use it due to its first mover advantage.

The open-source 3D Manufacturing Format (3MF) is designed to be the STL killer, enabling applications to transfer full-fidelity 3D models with all of their metadata in a single file. The new Polygonica source code is based on the lib3MF libraries and supports 3MF reading and writing to and from the Polygonica engine, as well as the 3MF Beam Lattice extension.

Spinal implant model defined using the 3MF Beam Lattice extension. Image via MachineWorks.
Spinal implant model defined using the 3MF Beam Lattice extension. Image via MachineWorks.

What’s so special about 3MF?

Formed in 2015, the 3MF Consortium is a Joint Development Foundation project established with the aim of creating a universal 3D file format specifically for 3D printing. With founding members Microsoft, 3D Systems, Autodesk, HP, Dassault Systèmes, Materialise, Stratasys, and more, the 3MF Consortium joined the Linux Foundation as an open standards project in 2020.

Compared to STL, 3MF files can carry significantly more data such as print settings, machine information, materials, colors and textures, packing information, and even the number of components that will be 3D printed. This means the accompanying print settings of a build don’t need to be sent in a separate file, which is the case with the older STL format. Despite this, 3MF files still tend to be smaller in size than their STL counterparts thanks to memory optimization.

Additionally, 3MF files are based on the human-readable XML format, meaning they’re much easier for software developers to work with. 

What is Polygonica?

Founded in 1994, MachineWorks has been building 3D software engines for manufacturers and engineering software companies for almost three decades. Polygonica is the firm’s proprietary polygon-mesh modeling software package. Written in C with API support for C and C#, the library has over fifty big-time licensees and is widely used in a range of additive manufacturing software by companies such as 3D Systems, Stratasys, and Desktop Metal.

The software serves to carry out speedy and reliable geometric operations on polygon solids, including Boolean operations, healing, smoothing, mesh analysis, thin wall detection, feature recognition, and point cloud processing.

Polygonica's new 3MF Beam Lattice extension in action. Image via MachineWorks.
Polygonica’s new 3MF Beam Lattice extension in action. Image via MachineWorks.

A new avenue for data transfer

As it stands, most Polygonica customers transfer data between Polygonica and their host applications via direct memory API calls. However, there are occasions when file transfer directly to and from Polygonica libraries is also necessary. Until now, the library’s APIs have supported data transfer using the STL format, as well as MachineWorks’ proprietary .pgs format (useful for microservices on cloud-based backends).

Although Polygonica is intended to be a comprehensive polygon modeling and mesh processing library with applications in a plethora of industries, broad file format support has never been part of the roadmap. However, due to the library’s widespread use in additive manufacturing software, there have reportedly been several requests for MachineWorks to implement direct support for the 3MF format.

The newly developed bridge is in the form of unsupported source code but covers most of the core 3MF specification and the Beam Lattice extension.

Much like the vision behind 3MF, the world of 3D printing software is rife with innovation. Just this month, topological optimization software developer nTopology debuted its third-generation latticing technology to enable a wider range of 3D printing applications. Designed to be easy and quick to use, the new lattice design tools aim to provide users with greater control over complex lattice structures.

Elsewhere, Ulendo, a University of Michigan spin-out, recently launched its Ulendo FBS software tool. The program is designed to enable users to boost their print speeds by up to 100% without having to degrade part quality. It works by modifying a 3D printer’s firmware to compensate for real-world vibrations, and is compatible with any 3D printer that leverages a moving mechanical printhead.

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Featured image shows a 3MF 3D model. Image via 3MF.