Home Interview How Significant is a Universal File Format for 3D Printing?

How Significant is a Universal File Format for 3D Printing?

This is the questions we asked Adrian Lannin, Executive Director at 3MF Consortium.

The 3MF Consortium was created to develop a modern file format for 3D printing. It started with partners like HP, Microsoft, netfabb along with others and was joined by companies like Stratasys and 3D Systems. The goal of the 3MF Consortium is to develop a file format with 3D printing in mind: 3MF was created.

3Printr: Hey Adrian, thanks for taking the time to answer our questions! You are someone many would call the father or at least one of the parents of the new file format, 3MF. So how is the parenthood going?

Adrian Lannin: Better than expected, actually! Almost everyone that I’ve spoken to in the 3D printing industry agrees that we have the same painful problem, which is that it is difficult to build and sell products that fully enable great 3D printing experiences. A major reason for that is because the fundamental file formats are just not good enough. It’s just difficult to share and use 3D printable models reliably. Because we agree on the problem, and we agree that 3MF is the right solution, the growth of our “family” (to continue your analogy) is going well.

The 3MF project attracted a lot of attention from big names in the 3D printing space. All of these companies are working together, pulling on the same rope. Is it difficult to combine all the know how?

I’m really pleased with how the member companies have been willing to commit time and resources to this work. They all deserve recognition for making an investment in the industry itself. We have expertise from a wide variety of companies and individuals, and yes, we certainly have discussions about different approaches to solving specific problems. When we look at different approaches, we ask ourselves some basic questions to help drive consensus about the right approach. For example, we will prefer a simpler solution over a complex one. In addition, it’s very important to us that the format is implementable.

3MF aims to combine some of the important features of many file formats in just one format and to keep these attributes expandable for future needs. Tell us a little bit more about the flexibility of 3MF.
3MF does have features in common with other formats, but one very important difference is that 3MF was designed from the start as a 3D printing format. Some formats used for 3D printing today were designed for other purposes (e.g. 3D visualization) and so they contain information that is irrelevant for printing. Also, it is important to understand is that 3MF is ready for use today. The 3MF specification fully describes the printable model, and everyone involved in developing 3D printing products should be planning how to use 3MF starting immediately. Our intention is to keep the 3MF specification as-is, so that implementers can use 3MF without having to worry about changes in the specification. Advanced functionality is encapsulated into 3MF Extensions, which are optional for creators and consumers of 3MF. For example, imagine a model shop in a business that takes files from multiple departments. It would be useful for them to use an extension that includes the department name, or other information that helps track the object through production.

So my message to your readers is to start using 3MF where you can, and ask your app developer or hardware provider to support it. If you are developer, support 3MF in your product. Let’s get beyond the basic problems with today’s unsuitable 3D file formats, and get to a point where 3D printing is much easier to use, so that people can use it to do great things!