Microsoft has big plans for 3D printing and is already embarking on a mission to make the process easier. Using Windows 8.1 the plan is to overcome the current issues that make 3D printing less of a hobby for those in the know and more simple for everyone, like 2D printing.
If you've used a 3D printer you'll know they're still a work-in-progress. Metadata loss during exporting and poor communication between apps and printers is a big issue. It can often waste an entire print with just one tiny mistake, typically made in the fifth hour. Mircrosoft wants to prevent those frustrations using its own 3D data format called 3MF.
This format will not only simplify the process from design to printing on Windows 8.1, but it will also deal with issues like printing in different colours and materials. Print options including quality and density can be easily selected after hitting the print icon. Check out the video to see how it works.
While we're pleased to see 3D printing make another step toward the mainstream it must be recognised that Microsoft is gaining a chance to control the industry. Of course other formats will be available but we wouldn't be surprised if, in the future, you had to pay to use Microsoft's 3MF, and if it only worked on certain printers. But if that brought the price of the printers down, maybe that wouldn't be such a bad thing.
It's good to see a big name leading the way. As long as files remain free and open 3MF could be a great way to attract the public to 3D printing. We look forward to printing our personally hand-moulded Xbox One controller right off the console in the near future.