3MF Consortium Welcomes the Addition of 3D Systems, Materialise, Siemens PLM Software and Stratasys 
Andrew Wheeler posted on July 10, 2015 |
Four industry giants in 3D technology join 3D-printing standards association.

The 3MF Consortium was launched and announced at Microsoft’s Developer Conference, Build 2015. 3MF is also the name of a new file format for 3D printing and you can check out the specifications right here.  


3D Systems manufactures and develops 3D printers, software, print materials and cloud-sourced custom parts. Chuck Hull, Chief Technology Officer and Founder of the 3D Systems, said "Our partnership with Microsoft and the interoperability of the 3MF format will help our customers harness all the key features of our 3D printers from the Windows platform. As the inventors of 3D printing and the widely used STL file format, we're pleased to join the 3MF Consortium and bring our expertise to help shape the future of interoperability and print integration."  

Stratasys produces 3D printers and processes to spur innovative product design, prototyping and the creation of production parts with direct digital manufacturing.  "Stratasys is dedicated to developing new paradigms in design and manufacturing with its best-of-class 3D printing solutions,” said Dan Yalon, executive vice president, business development, marketing & vertical solutions for Stratasys. “To further accelerate the adoption of 3D printing, it needs to become more accessible. This is why Stratasys is pleased to be joining the 3MF Consortium at this time and contributing to its mission to enable a simplified, more intuitive 3D printing user experience."  

Materialise provides and produces 3D printing software and services in a wide range of areas, such as healthcare, automotive and consumer products. 

Siemens PLM Software produces and develops product lifecycle management (PLM) and manufacturing operations management (MOM) software, systems and services. 

What Exactly Is The 3MF Consortium? 

The 3MF Consortium, a Joint Development Foundation, was formed in response to a lot of 3D technology converging, but not quite working.  

The first spark of the group’s creation and development of the 3MF specification began with Microsoft's donation of its work-in-progress 3D file format. In other words, modern 3D printers were using incompatible legacy file formats and as a result, people began to notice and hone in on reoccurring interoperability problems and functionality issues. You might compare it to Windows 95 which became the one and only operating system allowing companies to just produce faster and faster hardware, without having to be concerned about aesthetics or interoperability issues.  

I think the main goal in developing the 3MF file is to write it in a robust enough way that it can be used to design 3D models which can then be sent to other applications, platforms, services and printers while eliminating those annoying interoperability issues.  

The first version of 3MF can be downloaded at no charge.  

Members of the 3MF Consortium include:  

  • 3D Systems 

  • Autodesk, Inc 

  • Dassault Systèmes, SA 

  • FIT AG/netfabb GmbH 

  • HP 

  • Materialise 

  • Microsoft Corporation  

  • Shapeways, Inc.  

  • Siemens PLM Software  

  • SLM Solutions Group AG  

  • Stratasys  

What is the difference between an STL file and a 3MF file?  

The new 3D printing file format, 3MF (3D Manufacturing Format), sounds like a co-opted AMF file – praiseworthy for allowing the manipulation of the color, material specification and texture of a 3D model. You can’t do any of that with an STL file.   

The .3MF SDK contains: Microsoft’s 3D manufacturing file format (3MF) specification and sample 3MF files. It has the full source code including the data for 3D printing from a Windows Store and a Desktop app. It also has sample 3D printer drivers which can be modified to create your own driver G-code driven 3D printers. The Microsoft driver includes a slicer, tool router and the G-code generator required to print on a standard desktop FDM printer.  

Will the 3MF file overtake the STL as the primary 3D file for additive manufacturing? Probably not anytime soon, but there definitely seems to be a convergence.  

HP released their Mutli-Jet Fusion printer powered by Windows 10, which will have Autodesk’s Spark embedded in it. Third party developers will have access too, which leads me to believe that the 3MF consortium is preparing to unify an advanced version of the STL in preparation for a highly flexible 3D printing service. I imagine this will start in Windows, run through Spark and different types of CAD programs being printed through a Dremel (bundled with HP Sprout) or through a service like Shapeways – having access to every type of printer with fabrication capabilities equaling the design power of the new 3MF file format.   

Unifying the file format as a flexible, powerful and fully integrated design tool may pave the way for 3D printing hardware developers to focus solely on the specs of the printer. No more having to worry about interoperability issues.   

Sound familiar? In the 90s, it became clear that there was only going to be one OS, leading to an intense focus on hardware specs and a great boom in the PC industry.   

We’ll see how this plays out. 

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