Extending CAD Beyond Engineering

I have been working with many of our customers who have asked about how to get more out of their investment in 3D CAD and PLM.  This is going to be a “how-to” session on doing just that… I would like to show you how to better extend your 3D CAD assets outside of engineering and integrate the product development process across the extended enterprise.

 

Today we will pretend we work at a company called Global Corp. Imagine that you are the engineering lead for a project, and you must communicate technical information to suppliers.   I will show you how repurpose 3D content from virtually any CAD format, making it available cross-functionally, with suppliers and joint venture partners virtually anywhere.  In today’s scenario, I will show you how a technical specification created in an MS Office application can be combined with any 2D or 3D content and shared easily and securely across the enterprise.

I have been working with many of our customers who have asked about how to get more out of their investment in 3D CAD and PLM.

 

Top firms are addressing the issue.  Why?  Here are the top 3 reasons given in a recent Aberdeen study are:

  • First, getting work done as soon as possible clearly shortens lead times to market.  There is no waiting for engineering
  • Second, addressing things like serviceability and manufacturability earlier and in a much more robust way, dramatically improves quality and customer satisfaction.
  • Third, globalization.  3D content greatly enhances understanding and reduces errors.  That runs the gamut from manufacturing work instructions, to service manuals; to user manuals… you name it.

 

Here are the business challenges our customers are facing:

  • Most design today is done in 3D but there’s no easy and intuitive way of communicating in 3D
  • Often technical documentation has completed only after products are fully designed and engineered, very late in the product development cycle, so…
  • 3D designs are converted to 2D renderings, which are very limiting, and add time to the process of getting new products to market

 

Aberdeen says that firms who have done the best job of sharing 3D information downstream are meeting their target an average of 90% of the time, or better.  The laggards are way behind, meeting targets only 55% of the time, on average, or worse.

 

So the reasons are the obvious, better, faster, cheaper.  But how do you avoid the expense and complexity of CAD software to do the job? This is going to be a “how-to” session on doing just that… I will like to show you how to better extend your 3D CAD assets outside of engineering and integrate the product development process across the extended enterprise.

Lets get started…

Today we will pretend we work at a company called Global Corp. Imagine that you are the engineering lead for a project, and you must communicate technical information to suppliers.   I will show you how repurpose 3D content from virtually any CAD format, making it available to suppliers virtually anywhere.  In today’s scenario, the technical specification.  We are going to start in MS Excel. 

 

Figure 1.  Starting to Create the Specifications Document

 

We have added the technical parameters.  We are going to add some 3D content, some views and some buttons to easily direct readers to the views we will create.  We have Acrobat 3D installed, so we can use the Acrobat tools to search for and add the 3D content we need to the document.  Notice in Figure 1, we have selected the SolidWorks disc brake assembly we need.  We don’t even need SolidWorks installed to add the 3D content we need. 

 

Figure 2.  Our Specifications Document with 3D Content Added

 

Once we select “open” the 3D content is added.  We then resize the 3D pane to obtain the result in Figure 2.  At this point, however, we have just a static image. Our next step will be to convert to PDF.  To do that, we simply chose “create PDF” for the Acrobat Toolbar and off we go.  See Figure 3 to view our 3D PDF.

 

Figure 3.  Our 3D Technical Specifications PDF

Now we have real, interactive 3D.  Let’s go create some views to help our customers for this document. The idea is to make using the document really easy for the suppliers we are working with.  In figure 4, we have activated the 3D pane, rotated, panned and zoomed to the 3D design just the way we need it.  In fact, we even isolated just some of the parts. Then we have selected Views -> Manage Views to create named views that the user can easily navigate to…  but we’re not done yet.  Lets add some buttons to make navigation intuitive.

 

Figure 4.  Managing Views

Let’s look at Figure 5 to see the buttons we have added.  I am going to explain the steps I took in this article.  We will explore a little more deeply in a future article.  As a side note, I could have created the buttons and associated the necessary actions in LiveCycle Designer, which ships with Acrobat pro and Acrobat 3D, but for this simple case, Acrobat Forms is all I need, and is a little easier in this case. 

 

Figure 5.  Buttons Added to The Specifications

After creating three views I wanted, so that I can direct the user to specific areas of the design, I added buttons by first going to View -> Toolbars -> Forms Toolbar.  Then I selected the button tool.  Once selected, I simply sized and positioned the buttons where I wanted them.  I added border and fill colors.  I added labels in the Options Tab… for example “Complete Assembly”.  Then I moved to the  Actions Tab (see figure 6).  I selected “Go to a 3D View”, selected the view I wanted when prompted, for all three buttons and I was done.  So now you have it.  We have completed one simple example of extending the use of three dimensional data across the extended enterprze.  You can imagine all of the additional other things we could do, like adding call-outs, adding additional content from whatever file format or source it is saved in and even more 2 or 3D content.  We can make everything available to the receiver, with out worrying about the applications and formats they may have.  Everything will simply open and work in the free Adobe Reader. 

 

Figure 6.  Creating Adding the Action to the Button

Well, we’ll stop here today.  I would ask you to not only consider the ease with which we did this work, but I challenge you to find an easier way, anyway.

Comments are always appreciated, including what you would like to see next. 

3 Responses to Extending CAD Beyond Engineering

  1. B Blunt says:

    This site came up when I was trying to add a “call out” to a map. Maybe program (Adobe) does not have this feature but I didn’t find any “how to” above. Maybe I missed it. No big deal but as a user of many programs (including AutoCAD) I was used to it. Thanks. Bob

  2. Randy Van Nostrand says:

    7-29-08Hello,I work in an engineering enviromment doing visualization and animation. I have been an advocate for Acrobat 3D as a better way to communicate with our customers. We have a large contingent of Autodesk Mechanical Desktop and Inventor users. I want to add advanced features to the presentations we make to our customers. So far it looks like Acrobat 9 Pro Extended does not play nice with the Inventor 2009 series, neither the Desktop or Inventor. The main issue is that the section tool creates nice outlines where the solids are cut that describe the shape made by the cutting plane but the solid surfaces the plane would make are missing. It looks like the surface normal that should be there is flipped.I have looked at the various presentation methods in this new relase of Acrobat and they are a big step up but I want to be able to open a PDF to a text document with animations embedded in it and possibly narrations. I want a tavble of contents that has page links to illustrations and paragraphs, and 3D files that my customers can interact with. I see nothing in the training that addresses this. Can you help?Autodesk has it’s own design collaboration package that produces rotatable 3D files. It is called DWF Writer and the output is more realistic than what Acrobat produces. For my needs should I abandon Acrobat 3D functions and instead attach 3D DWF’s?Thanks,Randy Van Nostrand

  3. Doug Halliday says:

    Hi Randy,Here are some thoughts, based upon your description:I agree with you that our training material has a few gaps that we are working to close. Some of the version 8 material is being revised for version 9. The formats you mention are supported in Acrobat Pro Extended for sure.You are correct that “capping surfaces” are not generated in the section tool, either in Acrobat or the Adobe Reader. However, sections can be created with these features in 3D Reviewer, which is part of the Acrobat Pro Extended “suite”. That is, 3D Review is “in the box”. It can be launched separately or from within Pro Extended. If you right click on the 3D annotation Acrobat you have created from your Autodesk data, you will see “edit in 3D Reviewer” as one of the menu options. Once there, you will have plenty of advanced tools to choose from.Some highlights:A sectioning tool that will enable creating and saving sections. You can create configurations (which are similar to views) with multiple sections if you desire.You can create animations with some pretty nice tools. The animations can be saved back to PDF, though it is a little trickier then we would like right now. There are some templates that are included with your software, but if you want a custom template, there is a little work to be done. One of the options that is available is to record the animation in 3D Reviewer, output an AVI which can then be converted to Flash in a PDF. This provides a very easy way for non-CAD users to play the animations.Lots of other features for creating balloons, bills of material, computing physical properties, precise measurements, and so forth. You can also merge different CAD formats, reposition parts, and so forth.Regarding the table of contents idea you mentioned, there are several options. One option is to simply use bookmarks in the PDF, but that may not be as elegant as you would like. A second option would be to create a PDF portfolio (see my recent posting on that subject). The presentation layer would allow your customers to easily navigate through several documents, read a description of each, preview them, of course open them and so forth. I will attach one example that we created internally. A third approach would be to use Acrobat Forms or Livecycle Designer to add/embed controls (in the article you commented on, I used Acro-forms. If you are new to forms, Acrobat forms are easier to work with, but less robust. As an example of what you can do, you can add controls such as buttons to PDFs that take the reader to specific views and rendering styles within the 3D annotation, pages within the PDF, trigger some animation steps (a little knowledge of JavaScript is needed for that one) and more. An additional though is that with PDF/Acrobat, there are numerous options for combining 2D and 3D from almost any format. For example, you can create “posters” in PowerPoint, Illustrator or other authoring tools; add 3D, Flash or Video content with marquee tools to create some excellent material for customers.Regarding a choice between DWF and PDF/Acrobat, I am hopeful you will find what you need within Acrobat Pro Extended. The Autodesk products are certainly fine offerings and may well meet your needs. If creating PDFs that are fully enabled for measurements, commenting/review, sectioning and so forth, you will need Acrobat to “reader enable” the files.I hope this helps you some. Good luck.