By Deirdre MacCormack, Chief Marketing Officer, Mcor and Special Guest Blogger

Our vision as a company is to put a 3D printer in every office, classroom and eventually every home.

The goal is to make 3D printing as easy as printing on paper.

Indeed, many challenges still exist in the 3D printing industry.  One of the challenges that stand in the way of mainstream adoption is that current file formats used for 3D printing are in serious need of an upgrade. It may be one thing having a low cost, photo-realistic and safe printer to use but it is also imperative to have a file format that is easy to manage and print from.

Mcor has been in the 3D printing industry for over a decade and understands the importance of having an easy to use 3D file format. Our products include:

  • Mcor Matrix, a non-colour printer that works with STL files.  STL is a file format that describes only the surface geometry of a three-dimensional object without any representation of colour, texture or other common CAD model attributes
  • Mcor IRIS and  Mcor ARKe print full colour files. Full colour files add another level of complexity.  The IRIS and ARKe handle OBJ, VRML and DAE files.

IRIS and ARKe, state-of-the-art 3D printers, are hampered by outdated and clunky file formats with interoperability issues like STL and OBJ. These formats lack much of the data built up during the design phase such as technical information on materials, units of measurement, model orientation and position, textures, colours, sub-structures, and multi-material geometries. VRML files have similar issues. Both VRML and OBJ files rely on separate files to apply texture maps, MTL, JPEG and PNG files, which are often lost when transferring files from one user to another. The quality of a full colour model is dependent on the quality of the 3D file. As a result, you see companies spending more time preparing files than printing them. There is a real need for a new file format that would enable companies to focus on productivity and effectiveness. Furthermore, to bring 3D printing to the home, the file format needs to be easy and simple-to-use.

We think the 3MF file format may very well be the answer to making 3D printing more efficient and simpler-to-use. An XML-based open format, this new file type provides complete model information within a single archive: mesh, textures, materials, and colours.  This file format started when Microsoft sought to implement 3D printing support that would solve customers’ existing problems and address future needs. As a result, the 3MF Consortium was formed and has worked to define a 3D printing format that allows design applications to send full-fidelity 3D models to a mix of other applications, platforms, services and printers.

The 3MF format is also adaptable to future technologies, setting a baseline which can be used to add new capabilities as technologies develop — something previous 3D model file formats have not been able to accomplish. 3MF clearly defines the model so the user is guaranteed a more reliable design to print workflow.

Here are some of the advantages of the 3MF file format –

  • Cross Compatibility –this will allow for transfer from one package to another easily offering real cross compatibility.
  • Single Archive – all image and geometry data is within the one file and this ensures when transferring from customer to supplier or even internally that all the data remains with the file. No more looking for MTLs or missing images.
  • Manifolds – The files should be 100% manifold with no cracks or overlapping triangles avoiding problems common in other formats standardised for animation and VR rather than 3D printing. The Holy Grail in 3D printing is having a ready-to-print file which requires no adjustment or fixing.
  • Room for growth –Rather than releasing new standards, space has been allowed in the file for future proofing and expanding the content of the 3MF file
  • Thumbnail – 3MF files can contain a thumbnail for previewing a model without having to open it for easier searching and archiving.
  • XML based – Users can read the file itself and understand what is happening rather than binary code or similar that is standard on various other file types.

What the 3MF Consortium is doing represents something bigger than a shift in file formats. Think about a future where everyone is 3D printing in their home and what might be required to make this happen. Think about the myriad of 2D printers that print documents from word and then think about how this will work for 3D – we need a file format and platform which makes 3D printing as easy as 2D printing.

Mcor will provide the printer and 3MF can be the file format to make that leap beyond the classroom and office to the home.

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