3D Printing

Microsoft Announces 3MF Consortium for 3D Printing File Format

As Microsoft, potentially, re-emerges as a leader, once again, in the tech industry, its riding the Maker revolution currently underway, of which 3D printing and other digital fabrication technologies play a huge part.  One way to do so is to align itself with popular Maker brands like Arduino and Raspberry Pi.  Another way to do so is to reshape 3D printing files in its own image.  To do so, the company wants to establish its own 3D printing file format, .3MF, which it suggests will streamline and improve the 3D printing process.

partners 3mf consortium 3D printing

Through a new organization, dubbed the 3MF Consortium, multiple companies will work to develop a new 3D printing file format that combines all of the characteristics of the existing 3D printable file formats, without their accompanying drawbacks. So far, the companies that have joined the consortium include Shapeways. SLM Solutions, HP, Autodesk, Dassault Systèmes, and netfabb.  Together, the members will work to ensure that all of the data of 3D objects is included in this single, 3D printable file format that can be transferred across 3D modeling software.  The 3MF Consortium describes its purpose on its website as follows:

3D printing has many failure points, some of which arise from a tangle of different and inadequate file formats. 3MF can address this problem. The 3MF consortium came into being to deliver to the 3D printing industry a file format that is:

  • Rich enough to fully describe a model, retaining internal information, color, and other characteristics
  • Extensible so that it supports new innovations in 3D printing
  • Interoperable
  • Useful and broadly adopted
  • Free of the issues besetting other widely used file formats

Given the significant interest in solving the file format problem as soon as possible, Microsoft determined that it could best help deliver an open solution through collaboration with the industry, thus benefiting all parties involved. Accordingly, Microsoft contributed to the consortium its existing specification under development known as 3MF (for 3D Manufacturing Format). The 3MF Consortium now manages the further development and distribution of the 3MF specification. 3MF members have agreed make their necessary patent claims available for implementations of the 3MF Core Specification and 3MF Materials Specification on a royalty-free basis.

Vice president and general manager of Consumer and 3D Printing at Autodesk, Samir Hanna, said of 3MF, “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.” Dassault Systèmes CEO Gian Paolo Bassi said, “With the rapid adoption of 3D printing capabilities and increased usage across industries, the need for a file format that can accurately and completely transfer data from a CAD system to a 3D printer became instantly obvious.”

On the one hand, it’s possible that the 3MF Consortium will be able to address the drawbacks of current 3D files and could yield something that works across every piece of software and is printable on every 3D printing system.  This is actually something that the American Society for Testing and Materials’ Committee F42 on Additive Manufacturing Technologies attempted to tackle in 2009, eventually resulting in the .amf file format released in 2011. Microsoft believes that it can improve on this open source format, which brings us to the other hand.

As many readers of our last post on the topic pointed out, Microsoft, regarded as a the paragon of monopoly, would have control over this file format. PrintToPeer‘s Tom Bilecki specifically linked to the Wikipedia page on “Embrace, extend, and extinguish”, a phrase used by Microsoft in reference to their practice of, according to Wiki, “entering product categories involving widely used standards, extending those standards with proprietary capabilities, and then using those differences to disadvantage its competitors.”

Update: The 3MF Consortium has, however, launched a GitHub page where the beginnings of the .3mf file format can be downloaded.  As the work is published on GitHub, it may be possible that the work done on 3MF may be open source.