Manufacturing guy-at-large.

The 3MF Beamlattice extension: A better way to describe lattice geometries

Added on by Spencer Wright.

Today, the 3MF Consortium officially announced that its Beam Lattice extension has been ratified and released. And I'm proud to share that nTopology Element is the first piece of software to support it and that I (via nTopology) was a part of its development and adoption.

Brad and I first approached the 3MF Consortium about developing a lattice-specific file format almost two years ago. At the time, we had recently released nTopology's own LTCX file format, which we created and open-sourced in order to share files internally and with nTopology's early customers & research partners. LTCX is lightweight, portable, and high fidelity, and we wanted other companies in industrial 3D printing to have access to similar functionality. 

The 3MF consortium was an excellent fit for this, and late in 2016 I represented nTopology at our first 3MF meeting to discuss how LTCX could be adapted to meet the broader industry's needs.

For context: STL files have numerous well-documented issues, but they're particularly bad at representing lattice structures. STLs describe the surface of a part as a tessellated surface, which is (with large caveats) a fairly good general-purpose method of describing arbitrary geometry. But when you use STLs to describe lattices, you either end up with bad surface resolution or manifold/watertight issues, or both - and regardless, the file size is *enormous.*

The 3MF Beam Lattice extension solves this by describing lattices via their node and beam properties. This results in multiple orders of magnitude in file size reduction, while *improving* surface resolution. 3MF Beam Lattices live right alongside all of the other data that 3MF can handle: Not only meshes but materials, slices, etc. As a result, 3MF Beam Lattices are incredibly rich, and can be used for parts that comprise both lattices and solids with extremely high fidelity and portability.

Personally, the process of working on the 3MF Beam Lattice extension has been a pleasure, and I want to thank the entire 3MF Consortium for their dedication to our shared goals. In particular, Alex Oster, Scott White, Kris Iverson, Jordi Gonzalez, Mark Forsyth, Mike Facello, and Kurt Renap brought both enthusiasm and experience that was essential to the specification. I also want to commend the team at Netfabb for introducing 3MF Beam Lattice support with incredible speed, and for driving the development of the 3MF open source implementation. 

3MF has some great other projects in the works, and I can't wait to share them as well. For more information, visit the 3MF Consortium's website.