Some time ago I posted an article about what I see as the 2D to 3D trend. Will we continue to see movement to 3D or will that progress somehow plateau? The major point of that article was that not everything is or needs to be 3D-based and the best companies are learning to blend the two effectively. There is no doubt that 3D content will continue to grow. There are technical challenges, process challenges and, most importantly, people challenges. I read an interesting article recently by Robert Green in cadalyst entitled “The Realists Guide to 3D Implementation, Part 1”. The article is on the mark in my opinion.
I would like to jump off from Robert’s article to offer offer my thoughts on how companies like Adobe are helping with that transition.
Making the Transition – PDF is Essential to the Enterprise
I think there are two main viewpoints that need to be addressed. The first, and most important should be the consumer of the 3D content. To be honest, when the transition to 3D began, engineering was its own customer for the most part. Initially engineers had to satisfy engineers… they were both the consumer and creator of the content. When creating 3D content it is important to correctly manage the background data to provide the context for the emerging design. It took a while, but CAD companies branched out into PDM for that very reason. Of course, generation of 3D data would be useless unless there was an effective way to effectively generate prototype and then production parts from it… thus the CAM component and the sharing of data with manufacturing. The term PLM began to emerge as companies were forced to address how downstream operation would access and use the 3D content, and realized there were vast disconnects between process and technologies used in engineering and what was needed for consumers of the data. That battle continues.
Why 3D Deployment Stalls
Assuming that downstream use of visualization and solutions designed for engineers working with other engineers is the way to go to make 3D useful will surely derail the transition to 3D that should be taking place. To go to a ridiculous extreme, imagine that your company wants to share 3D content with customers, so you require customers to obtain CAD seats. How successful would that be? Imagine trying to train them even if you purchased CAD for them. Well, the same thing is true both internally and across the extended enterprise. Would you deploy CAD seats to workers in manufacturing facilities to view 3D content in work instructions? Of course not. Would you do the same thing with field maintenance facilities? I doubt it. You get the point. You can’t make people’s work more difficult and hope to succeed. That is where Adobe can help.
Example Manufacturing Work Instruction – Large Automotive OEM
The PDF format is a “super container” that can leverage almost any format, 2D, 3D, whatever. Both can be combined into single PDF documents or PDF packages. That is huge, because all that is needed to “consume” those documents (and the 3D content) is the free Adobe Reader. The Reader does so much more work than many people realize. Whether its collecting and aggregating data from Forms, doing the same thing with Review and Comment cycles or simply enabling analysis and interaction with embedded 3D content PDF is the perfect compliment to CAD and visualization systems.
PDF Benefits IT Too
From an IT perspective, all companies I work with are making strides to reduce the number of applications they need to deploy and support. For them, even free solutions are not free. The Adobe Reader, however, is already in place. What I find over and over again is that most are not aware of the capability, and don’t fully leverage what they already have as a result.
Did I mention security? Look, the reality is that security is another reason you don’t get enough out of your investment in CAD. There is absolutely a need to share data outside the “firewall”, but that is a big deal to IT pros. Direct connections, poking holes in firewalls, identity management, authentication and authorization, VPNs… the list goes on and on. I am convinced most manufacturers are spending money and taking risks they don’t need to take. Look into the security benefits of PDF, especially when combined with Adobe’s Rights Management ES. Can those other “solutions” be eliminated or reduced? Can you cut spending? Can you simplify operations?
Getting back to Robert’s article… the transition to 3D is not an easy one, but it is well worth it, provided you think through both the ease of creation and use of 3D content. Yes, you will face issues. Cultural challenges and expertise will surely rear their heads. Do what is natural. If pushing 3D into a work stream seems unnatural, ask yourself if you are asking people to learn skills they really won’t use very much just to access the data. If there are IT challenges, and there will be, ask yourself if you are using what you already have or adding complexity. You need to think about what users really need to maximize the return on your investment. Those of you who have been through this will know what I’m talking about. The transition to 3D, carefully aligned with 2D content, is the way to go, and will pay off. Not extending 3D content across and outside the enterprise is one area where companies fall short. Don’t let it happen to you.