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What Is the 3D Manufacturing Format?

  • September 11, 2020

3D printers rely on files to build objects using raw material. There are many different types of 3D printers, including fused filament fabrication (FFF), selective laser melting, selective laser sintering and electron beam melting. Regardless of the type, though, they are all guided via a model file. These files can’t use just any format. Rather, they must feature a format that’s supported by the respective 3D printer. The good news is that most 3D printers use a single file format known as the 3D Manufacturing Format (3MF).

Overview of 3MF

Originally released in April 2015, 3MF is an open-source file format pioneered by the 3MF Consortium. It uses the Extensible Markup Language (XML) specifications as its framework to provide an effective and versatile solution for model files in 3D printing applications.

Computer-aided design (CAD) software supports 3MF. Manufacturing companies can create object model files in CAD software, after which they can save the files in the 3MF format. The 3MF model file can then be uploaded to a 3D printer. The 3D printer will use the instructions in the file to deposit material onto a print bed and, therefore, build a physical version of the digital model.

Features of 3MF

When it was first launched in 2015, 3MF was relatively basic. Over the years, though, the 3MF Consortium has improved the format by adding new features to it. Among other things, the latest version of 3MF supports full colors and textures. Using the format, manufacturing companies can specify custom colors and textures in their object models.

3MF also supports the use of structures. Structure, such as bridges, are used to temporarily hold printed objects together. They aren’t permanent parts of printed objects. Instead, they are used to prevent printed objects from collapsing or deforming until they’ve hardened. With 3MF, manufacturing companies can include structures in their object models.

Another noteworthy feature of 3MF is support for multiple materials. Not all 3D printers use a single type of material. Many of them use multiple types of material. Known as multi-material 3D printers, they are used in complex commercial 3D printing applications. 3MF doesn’t require the use of a single material; it supports multiple materials to accommodate multi-material 3D printers.

You might be surprised to learn that 3MF is compatible with Microsoft Office. It features native integration with Microsoft’s popular word processing software. Manufacturing companies can view and print 3MF. Of course, CAD software is required to take full advantage of this format. Nonetheless, Microsoft Office supports basic processes like viewing and even printing by default.

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