Microsoft Releases 3D Printing App

Microsoft helps 3D models make the transition from on-screen to in-hand with the new 3D Builder app for Windows 8.1.

from on-screen to in-hand

On a mission to bring 3D printing to the masses, Microsoft is playing to its strengths, namely developing software. The company released 3D Builder, a Windows 8.1 app that allows users to create and print 3D objects.

In a Nov. 15 Windows Blog post, Kristina Libby, head of consumer communications for Windows, announced that the app includes a "catalog of objects you can create from ornaments to toys and more."

Sporting a "clean, simple user interface" the app allows users to scale, rotate and adjust objects. Users can also add multiple objects and even stack and merge models to create new objects. "Printing 3D objects created in other applications or ones that are downloaded from the Internet is really easy with the 3D Builder app and touch as well," she added. The app features support for stereolithography (STL), OBJ (which is a file extension) or 3D Manufacturing Format (3MF) files.

This summer, in the months leading up to the Oct. 17 release of Windows 8.1, the Redmond, Wash.-based software maker announced that it was baking 3D printing and file format support into the anticipated OS update. With visions of "a factory on every desktop," Shanen Boettcher, general manager of the Startup Business Group at Microsoft, said the company is working to make churning out 3D physical objects as easy as printing Office documents.

"Making a 3D object on your PC will be as easy as writing a document in Word and sending it to print. Just as desktop publishing transformed how we write, we think desktop manufacturing will transform how we create," he stated in a June 26 blog post.

The burgeoning 3D printing industry is also lending a hand.

MakerBot, the Brooklyn, N.Y.-based maker of 3D printers and scanners, last week announced a new driver for Windows 8.1 that helps streamline the process of turning 3D models from pixels into physical objects.

MakerBot CEO Bre Pettis said in a statement: "We have been working closely with Microsoft to prepare the printer driver to provide the familiar plug-and-play capabilities of Windows with the MakerBot Replicator 2."

Microsoft stocks MakerBot Replicator 2 machines at its retail locations and hosts on-site demonstrations for consumers. The device drew crowds at CeBIT in Hannover, Germany, this year, turning MakerBot's booth into one of the event's most popular attractions.

In June, MakerBot merged with Stratasys, an industrial 3D printing company, in a deal valued at approximately $403 million. MakerBot recently kicked off a crowd-funding program with the goal of putting a 3D printer in every school in the U.S.

A growing number of companies are also getting in on the act, said Libby.

"3D printers are already on the market and partners like 3D Systems, Autodesk, Dassault Systemes, MakerBot, netfabb, Materialise, Stratasys, Tiertime (PP3DP), and many others are making 3D printing a reality for the masses," she wrote.

Pedro Hernandez

Pedro Hernandez

Pedro Hernandez is a contributor to eWEEK and the IT Business Edge Network, the network for technology professionals. Previously, he served as a managing editor for the network of...