5 Tips For Choosing an Additive Manufacturing File Format

One of the most critical additive manufacturing decisions — along with choosing the hardware — is selecting the software to use in an additive manufacturing, or 3D printing, system. Manufacturing is changing rapidly from a physical industry to a digital industry. Selecting the right digital infrastructure is critical to the efficient running of your additive manufacturing system.

It’s more than simply getting the right software. You also need to use the right standards and services. Getting the 3D file format right at the beginning simplifies development and operation which leads to a faster, more efficient additive manufacturing process and a reduction in errors.

Here are the five most important attributes a 3D file format should have:

  1. Designed for additive manufacturing: Pick the right tool for the job. Select a file format that was designed for additive manufacturing. Formats not designed specifically for additive manufacturing can contain too little information, which is limiting, and they can contain extraneous information, which is inefficient.
  2. Future-proof: A 3D file format’s extensibility will help protect your investment. Look for a file format that is designed with extensibility, so that you can take full advantage of technical advances and future-proof your additive manufacturing system.
  3. Broad industry support: Broad industry support for a file format leads to standards. Use a file format that is broadly supported by industry. This will reduce interoperability problems and make it easier to select products that work well together.
  4. Minimize exceptions: Edge cases and exceptions reduce productivity. Look at the requirements and select the solution that best matches your needs. For example, if you need to handle printing in color, ask yourself if the file format can handle that natively, or whether you will need to build a special process in your workflow to handle that requirement.
  5. Don’t settle for STL: Modern file formats drive greater efficiency. There is broad consensus that the use of the STL file format in additive manufacturing is limiting our industry’s ability to grow. STL was designed decades before additive manufacturing became a viable manufacturing model. It defines a simple mesh of triangles, but doesn’t define any of the other information required for an efficient additive manufacturing workflow, such as units, colors, materials, or textures. Modern additive manufacturing file formats such as 3MF contain all of the information that is needed to produce the physical object, in a single file, thus enabling a more efficient additive manufacturing process.

>> Read more by Adrian Lannin, Design News, February 17, 2017