By Mark Rushton  Product Portfolio Manager, SOLIDWORKS

At the launch of SOLIDWORKS 2017, a panel discussion on the Future of 3D Printing brought together experts from various machine manufacturers and service providers and took questions from the audience of SOLIDWORKS users. One of the questions raised by the audience was “Everyone agrees that STL is not the file format of the future. What *is* the future of data transfer for 3DP?” To have an agreed format, it needs to have the ability to adapt to future needs of the technology and have the backing of the main industry players. As we have seen in recent years, 3D printing has moved so quickly with new capabilities being added all the time, a static file format will not succeed. That is where 3MF has the potential to become the replacement for STL. It is already backed by all of the biggest names in the industry as they are all part of the 3MF Consortium.
The next steps required are exactly the same as the rest of the Additive Manufacturing industry. Education is the most critical step as without knowing how to maximize the potential of anything new, they tend to be used in the same way as the predecessor. This is true for software, hardware, services and even file formats. One step we have taken at SOLIDWORKS is to add some checks specifically for 3D printing. Users can now look for unprintable features such as small gaps and thin walls which fall below the resolution of the printer/material/settings configuration.

SOLIDWORKS 2017 supports import and export of 3MF files and retains the colours and material information too. At SOLIDWORKS we are very optimistic of the potential 3MF has to offer, particularly as additive manufacturing reaches its potential. We are also committed to extending the support of 3MF as specifications develop. Parts will become more complex and the data required to be passed from CAD to printer will also develop, 3MF has the ability to adapt to hold the extra information required whilst reducing or possibly even eliminating the need to “fix” files as is often the case with STLs today.

This year at SOLIDWORKS World (our annual user conference), attendees can learn more about Designing for Additive Manufacturing by attending the Additive Manufacturing learning path. Speakers from Stratasys, Ultimaker, Xometry, Carbon and Renishaw will be presenting how to design for specific 3D printing technologies including extruded polymer, vat photopolymerization and polymer and metal powder bed technologies. This will be followed by a Panel Discussion where attendees can ask the presenters more about their technologies, or perhaps how they plan to support 3MF…