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Why Use 3MF for Additive Manufacturing?

Why use 3MF?
There are several reasons why 3MF is a good choice for additive manufacturing, also known as 3D printing. One of the main advantages of 3MF is that it is a modern file format that can support a wide range of 3D printing features, including color, materials, and texture, along with the efficient communication of complex lattice structures with the Beam Lattice extension, manufacturing data at the voxel level with the Volumetric Extension along with slice and security information. In contrast, older formats like STL are very basic and only support a single color with no other information.

The full specification for the 3MF format, and implementation information for developers can be found on the 3MF Github repository.

Another benefit of 3MF is that it is an open format that is supported by many different 3D printing software programs and hardware manufacturers. This means that it is easier to use and share 3MF files than other formats, which can be more difficult to work with and may not be compatible with certain software or printers.

Additionally, 3MF is more efficient than some older formats. 3MF files are typically smaller in size than STL files, which means that they can be transferred and processed more quickly. This can be important in applications where speed is a concern, such as when printing large or complex 3D models.

Overall, 3MF is a versatile and flexible file format that offers several advantages for additive manufacturing. As such, it is increasingly being adopted by designers, engineers, and manufacturers as the preferred format for 3D printing.

Smaller File Sizes with 3MF vs STL and other 3D File Formats

A 3MF file can be orders of magnitude smaller than an STL or other 3D file formats.
The 3MF was designed to make the 3D printing process more efficient than other file formats such as .OBJ, .STL .VRML etc. which were not designed to handle the resolution and complexity of 3D geometry that is possible with advanced manufacturing.

Below you can see the file size difference between an STL vs 3MF mesh export. In the example of the Brake Pedal, the Beam Lattice was used to describe the lattice structure to reduce the file size for both storage and communication. Reducing the file size can save hours in waiting for files to load and be visualized in receiving software, especially for older software that may not be multi-threaded or machines that cannot handle the complexity of a mesh representation of lattice structures.

Communicating Complexity

You often hear the term ‘complexity is free’ in regard to 3D printing, and while complex geometries may be more efficient to produce than subtractive manufacturing methods, storing and communicating this ‘free’ complexity can still be expensive.

The 3MF specification includes extensions designed to better handle complex geometries such as lattice structures with the lattice beam extension. As you can see from the examples exporting complex lattice structures from nTopology, the file size reduction between a low resolution STL mesh and a high resolution 3MF with beams makes the communication of complexity efficient, if not free.

Save Copyright Information with 3MF

3MF also give you the ability to save authorship information and Copyright license type natively in the 3MF file format. At export you can define the title, designer, copyright information, license terms to ensure correct use of both the 3MF file, derivative files AND physical outputs via 3D print of any parts made with the file, protecting your intellectual property.

How to Use 3MF with Your Software and 3D Printer

Check the 3MF Compatibility Matrix to see how your current design, engineering and 3D printing software handles the 3MF file format, whether as the compressed mesh or with other capabilities such as full color, lattice beams or production capabilities.

The articles below outline how to export 3MF from some of the supported design and engineering software.

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