New Standard Aims to Simplify 3D Printing Process

Christine Dunne and Ron Gilboa
May 4, 2015

Last week, it was announced that seven leading companies in the global 3D printing sector have launched a new consortium—the 3MF Consortium—focused on interoperability, functionality, and standards within the 3D printing industry.

The 3MF Consortium’s Logo

As a first step, the consortium is releasing a new specification—the 3D Manufacturing Format (3MF) specification—that enables design applications to send “full-fidelity” 3D models to other applications, platforms, services, and printers. The first version of the specification is free, and available for download on the consortium’s website.

According to the press release announcing the news, current 3D design file formats—such as STL files—often have limitations around accuracy, ease of use, and functionality. They aren’t necessarily capable of fully describing models and all their characteristics.

The new specification, however, is designed to resolve these issues. It will reportedly align design software, print software, and print hardware in a way that simplifies and improves the entire printing process. Another key component is its ability to evolve and support 3D printing innovations over time.

The 3MF Consortium consists of Dassault Systèmes S.A.; FIT AG/netfabb GmbH; Microsoft Corporation; HP; Shapeways, Inc.; SLM Solutions Group AG; and Autodesk Inc. Its formation apparently resulted from a discussion on how the companies could best enable their products to work well together.

InfoTrends’ Opinion

This announcement follows Adobe’s integration of 3D printing capabilities into its Adobe Photoshop Creative Cloud in January 2014. While this move was aimed at simplifying and streamlining the 3D printing process, it did not result in a standard/specification for all industry players to use and benefit from. The new 3MF standard, however, is intended for the industry as a whole. The fact it already has support from a good mix of 3D printing companies speaks to its potential usefulness for a wide range of purposes.

Depending on how the standard is received and adopted, leading 3D hardware vendors Stratasys and 3D Systems will likely need to respond to it in some way.  Indeed, their omission from the new consortium is hard to ignore. While the potential benefits of such a standard are evident to the end user as well as the overall industry, there are likely to be questions around how it might impact individual 3D print vendors—especially those with dominant market positions.

Nevertheless, with unrealized opportunity in the area of consumer, professional, and production printing, 3D printing adoption could likely benefit from improvements around operability and usability. Furthermore, an industry standard could foster a more open market that would potentially help level the playing field for market participants as well as cultivate and reward technological advances.

For more information on InfoTrends’ coverage of the 3D printing market, please contact Scott Phinney at InfoTrends is particularly focused on viewing the market from the perspective of 2D printing players looking for new, complementary opportunities.

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