3D printing has been changing the way designers and makers think about prototypes since its creation. However, our tools today still build upon the old file format “.STL” which was created in 1989. The .STL format converts 3D models into layers which printers can lay down in sequence to create the desired geometry. Many applications for 3D printing involve a particular surface finish to the part which now requires post processing outside the printer to achieve.
The future of 3D printing is the subject of a session at Microsoft’s Build conference next week. A group composed of many different companies has been tasked with designing a new more robust 3D printing file format, one which can describe more than layers. Ideally this file format will be highly compatible with existing CAD programs and 3D printers.
To empower people, maximize productivity, and unlock the full capabilities of this technology, a new file format is needed.
Microsoft has been a big supporter of 3D printing by integrating 3D print capabilities directly into Windows 8. With a modern app, users can view and print 3D solids on compatible 3D printers. Anyone who has worked with 3D printing realizes there needs to be a better way to bind surface appearance to the solid model in a single file. There are so many different ways to build textures for 3D models but none which have been designed for 3D printing.
Hopefully at Build, Microsoft will not only reveal the next generation of 3D printing formats but also how Windows 10 will support the file format natively. Sharing 3D files can be difficult because different companies use different CAD packages but a common file format which operates upon an open standard and interfaces with Windows would go a long way to simplify the process. This new format could also mark the end of 3D printed parts being easy to identify from typical injection molded plastic parts because of the differences in surface finish. While 3D printing hardware continues to evolve it is only natural that new and more sophisticated file formats follow along.