Microsoft’s New 3D Printing File Format And More From Build 2015

Autodesk Spark will be integrated into Windows 10. The new 3D printing file format is called 3MF. Microsoft, Autodesk, HP, Shapeways, Dassault Systems, Netfabb and SLM Solutions have formed a consortium.

A chain of 3D technology news came out of Build 2015 today, and it may have some big implications for industries involved with additive manufacturing, 3D scanning, 3D software and augmented reality.  

  1. Autodesk Spark (already to be integrated with HP) is being integrated into Microsoft Windows 10. 

  2. The Autodesk Spark API is now open to Microsoft Developers. 

  3. The integration with Autodesk is part of a new consortium called 3MF, which presently includes the following companies: Autodesk Inc.Dassault Systèmes S.A.FIT AG/netfabb GmbHHPMicrosoft CorporationShapeways, Inc., and SLM Solutions Group AG.


  4.  The new 3D printing file format released at Build 2015 is called .3MF (click to download and get core/material specs), and it is a new file format altogether, though it sounds like a co-opted AMF file given the fact that it has color, material specification and texture, unlike the .STL file.  3MF is the result of a collaboration by the 7 company consortium, and Microsoft has provided the download the link to the .3MF SDK.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          From Microsoft: 

    “The 3MF format is designed to be an additive manufacturing format, with the complete model information contained within a single archive: mesh, textures, materials, colors and print ticket. 3MF provides a clear definition of manifoldness — open source code available for rapid validation and there is no ambiguity for models with self-intersections.

    Transforms and object references are supported, with multiple objects contained within the single archive. Single objects can be referenced or moved without changing the mesh, and multiple identical objects can be placed referencing the same mesh.”

    The basic  idea is to remove different file formats from the design to fabrication process. One file all the way through from design-to-fabricate.  

  5. The .3MF SDK contains: Microsoft’s 3D manufacturing file format (3MF) specification and sample 3MF files. It has has the full source code which has 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. In the Microsoft driver is the slicer, tool router and the G-code generator that is required to print on a standard desktop FDM printer.
  6. Microsoft also announced that the new Printrbot Metal Simple, which Microsoft already created a driver for, would be using the new Microsoft .3MF format for plug and play capabilities, and it appears that 3D Systems, Makerbot and TierTime (Up 2 desktop printer) are all in line for a plug-in. 

  7. An initiative was announced to bring 3D models from Autodesk software into the virtual reality environment of Microsoft HoloLens. This means that digital models using software like Autodesk Maya or Fusion 360 could become viewable in the reality computing environment of the HoloLens. It’s big news for gamers, and a whole new generation of entertainment experiences are now surely in the works. For designers and engineers, it will probably become possible to view a full scale model during the up front design phase of product development, cutting down on time and cost required for physical prototypes before fabrication. 

A Reality Computing vision of the future is unfolding around 3D technology in Silicon Valley…

Designers and engineers could create 3D models of their ideas with Autodesk software, like Fusion 360, view the models with HoloLens, and prep them for 3D printing on Spark-compatible printers, such as those that will eventually come from HP.  In fact, people will use HP Sprout, which runs on Windows, to 3D scan objects.  I wonder if those objects will then be converted to the .3MF format…

I’m speculating, but with Shapeways as part of the consortium, HP will be able to sell them their multi-jet fusion technology to 3D print at Shapeways on-demand from Windows 10, using Autodesk’s Spark software.  Netfabb is there to integrate it’s model repair service and excellent cloud software, and SLM will be part of a massive 3D printing service that will be optimized to include as many material options as possible.  HP will also have a full Reality Computing station with Sprout, 3D scanning objects, manipulating them in Windows/Spark/Fusion 360 and printing them out through their own HP printer, or through a service like Shapeways and SLM solutions for prints in materials outside of the Multi-Jet Fusion 3D printers, which will hit the marketplace in 2016. 

From Autodesk:

“3D printing is incredibly promising, but also still too complex and unreliable. This relationship is a key step in making 3D printing easier and more accessible to businesses and individuals alike,” said Samir Hanna, vice president and general manager, Consumer and 3D Printing, Autodesk. “Together with Microsoft and its global community of developers, we have an opportunity to tackle the complexities of 3D design and printing head-on to improve how things are made and even change the very nature of what we create.”

Microsoft was built on betting that the PC industry would benefit from a standardized OS in the 90s. Users and manufacturers could focus on hardware and it streamlined innovation. In 2013, they introduced the free 3D Builder App for Windows 8.1, for native support of 3D printing and have recently had Makerbot 3D printers on hand in Microsoft stores for demonstrations. Now they’re making a similar bet here as part of a broader 3D technology ecosystem.  I know this news is going to rile some feathers, but I’m willing to check it out and see for myself first.  

Here are some ways you can explore Microsoft’s plans for 3D Printing: