Universal 3D (U3D) is a compressed file format standard for 3D computer graphics data.
The format was defined by a special consortium called 3D Industry Forum that brought together a diverse group of companies and organizations, including Intel, Boeing, HP, Adobe Systems, Bentley Systems, Right Hemisphere and others whose main focus had been the promotional development of 3D graphics for use in various industries, specifically at this time manufacturing as well as construction and industrial plant design. The format was later standardized by Ecma International in August 2005 as ECMA-363.
The goal is a universal standard for three-dimensional data of all kinds, to facilitate data exchange. The consortium promoted also the development of an open source library for facilitating the adoption of the format.
STEP or "Standard for the Exchange of Product model data" is also referred as ISO 10303. STEP has been initially designed with the idea to supersede the IGES format (which was the first broadly used vendor-neutral CAD file format). However even today both formats co-exist and data in IGES and STEP represent lion share of all CAD files.
Typically, STEP can be used to exchange data between CAD, CAM, CAE, PDM/enterprise data modeling and other CAx systems. STEP addresses product data from mechanical and electrical design, geometric dimensioning and tolerancing, analysis and manufacturing, as well as additional information specific to various industries such as automotive, aerospace, building construction, ship, oil and gas, process plants and others.
STEP is developed and maintained by the ISO technical committee. There are also various technical groups that define usage conventions and recommended practices to ensure better interoperability between software applications. In CAD world, the most prominent group is www.cax-if.org that unites software vendors and industrial users.
ISO10303 is very extremely large and complex and is structured in multiple layers, for example, from physical file format definition (Part 21) to geometrical/topological definitions (Part 42), up to Application Protocols (AP’s) defining higher-level industry use cases. CAD Exchanger supports AP203, A214 and AP242, which are most commonly used AP's.
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