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Which 3D file format is used in rapid prototyping?
2021.06.11
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Every prototype is based on a detailed and correct design drawing. Before the prototyping, we will ask our clients to provide 3D files for project evaluation. As the information carrier, the 3D file includes various formats to fit the specific needs of different industries. Prototyping manufacturers usually require 3D files in IGS, STL, and STEP format.
 
There are hundreds of 3D file formats. CAD software manufacturer such as AutoDesk and Blender has their proprietary format. For example, you will get a DWG file if you use AutoDesk. Accordingly, you may get a BLEND file if you use Blender. In the short run, you wont feel the difference. The interoperability issue occurs when you try to share your DWG file with your friend, or manufacturer, who uses Blender.
 
The neutral file format is here to solve the issue. It allows sharing 3D model info between prototyping manufacturers and design engineers. Almost all 3D software platforms enable the importing and exporting of neutral formats.
 
Stereolithography Files (File Extension: *.STL)
STL files focus on surface geometry and shapes but not on textures, colors, or other model attributes. STL files are enough to meet the rapid prototyping needs which dont need complex CAD info. STL files are also widely used in 3D printing and computer-aided manufacturing.
 
STEP (File Extension: *.STEP, *.STP)
STEP is originated in 1994 and complete the update in 2020. It is a mature and ubiquitous file format. Most CAD software supports importing and exporting STEP files, which makes STEP to being interoperable between different systems including CAM, CAI, and CAE. When compared with a simple data model of STL, STEP can encode topology, texture, material type, geometrical tolerance, and other information.
 
IGES (File Extension: *.IGS, *.IGES)
IGES format is developed by collaboration between the US Air Force and Boeing and other companies in the 1980s. It was originally used for interchanging information related to 3D CAD models across all proprietary systems. IGES is mainly used in surface geometry and solid model. Even this format has stopped updating (the latest format in 1996). IGES is technologically superseded by STEP. But it is still popular since its been around for a long time.
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