January 29, 2016
On the day you read this the financial powers that be may have decided that additive manufacturing (AM) is once again a top shelf idea worthy of financial backing, with bull analysts and lists of stocks to follow. Whether that is true or not is actually incidental to the adoption of AM in the various fields where the technology has already made an impact. While Wall Street might offer an endless stream of investor cash for research (or acquisitions), the long-term viability of AM isn’t dependent on market whims.
Consolidation is a far more important idea to the future of AM. Consolidation of naming protocols, consolidation of technology descriptors, and consolidation of file formats. The 3MF Consortium has positioned itself as the global research partner for the latter, with its attempts to modernize and consolidate the file formats used for AM. Part of 3MF’s goal is to attract members that will help it implement the new format (also called 3MF), eventually leading to a de facto acceptance of the format as industry standard.
3MF members already include a number of notable names in the AM field, including 3D Systems, HP (I’m giving them the benefit of the doubt) and Stratasys, along with world leading software companies such as Microsoft and Autodesk. The newest member to join the consortium is GE Global Research.
“With the successful integration of 3D printed metal parts in two different jet engine platforms and the construction of GE Aviation’s $50 million state-of-the-art high-volume additive production plant in Auburn, AL, we achieved major milestones with our additive program in 2015,” said Prabhjot Singh, manager of the AM Lab at GE Global Research.
“But we have only scratched the surface on additive’s potential. With even better design tools, machines and new materials, we can dramatically expand the additive industry’s footprint in manufacturing. That future will arrive faster through the strong ecosystem that 3MF is building to bring the right stakeholders together to accelerate new innovations and breakthroughs in this space.”
Through GE, use of 3MF will likely spread to the companies that supply parts and materials to the corporate giant, as well as to business partners. Enough top down pressure could eventually make 3MF the file format of choice, rather than the venerable STL format. Below you’ll find a video about 3MF.