Enabling Manufacturers to Implement 3D-only Design Intent Communications

Acrobat 3D’s capabilities are being leveraged within our customers’ 3D-based workflows in the design, procurement, manufacturing, distribution, technical publications and servicing phases of the product lifecycle.  3D-only processes are often called 3D Model Based Definition, or 3DMBD.   Today most products are designed in 3D but the format of choice for sending design intent information to a supplier remains the 2D drawing in many cases.  Today I will address an important aspect of the transformation to 3DMBD… propagation of 3D across the supply chain with the adoption of PDF as a standard for collaboration.

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Customer Questions: “How do I… “

It is really interesting to read what is said in the press and the “blogisphere” about Adobe in Manufacturing, and especially Acrobat 3D. Much of I read reflects what we hear from our customers… especially when we separate out those few bloggers who just seem to want to pull us into a public debate. In fact, I enjoyed reading the nice article by Nancy Rouse-Talley in yesterday’s edition of TenLinks Daily on “Rethinking Lightweight CAD Viewers” and the accompanying CAD Digest summary of Acrobat 3D reviews that was there as well. For today however, I’m going to focus just upon personal interactions with real customers. The majority of the feedback is very positive, and of course, the questions are extremely helpful.

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The Big Day

The day has finally arrived

Yesterday was a big day for Adobe and more importantly our customers. Acrobat 3D Version 8 is now available After months of anticipation and sneak previews, the day has finally arrived when you can have the same software we will be presenting and demonstrating. We want to let everyone know how excited Adobe is to get the shipping version in our customers hands. We really believe this major release will dramatically improve user productivity and enable new workflows.

Read on for more information about version 8 and other news…

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About Collaboration, Readers and Such

Lets talk about collaboration in manufacturing. I am going to ask you to think broadly about collaboration. I once tried to define the term “collaboration” by saying that it is “working together in a shared context to achieve a business objective”. I often think about pictures of design and engineering rooms the way they looked 40 years ago. You’ve seen the pictures… a bunch of slightly overweight guys wearing white shirts, ties with Windsor knots and pocket protectors. Some might be wearing white socks, which is easy to see because everybody’s pants are so short. Usually, if you look closely, you will see the supervisor wondering though, probably looking for a guy wearing a blue shirt to send him home.

Here’s the thing about the picture… everybody’s work is right there on the drafting table in plain sight. Sure, there is some version control, but for the most part, ad-hoc collaboration is going on all day, at least for those guys in the room. Do you remember when people actually worked this way? Well, I don’t either. But I have heard stories about it. When you combine the openness of the design activity, and the physical mock-up, frequently in the same room, there was some excellent collaboration going on. What changed? Some will say it was CAD/CAM. I can’t disagree that CAD set collaboration back, but I will argue that the thing that really changed was the business model.

First, we need to consider the business environment. The picture I painted of the design rooms of 40 years ago, represented a form collaboration for those people in the room, but lets think a bit more about what was really going on. These guys were designing things without really considering supplier capability, and they seldom had to worry about parts they were designed by someone else half way around the world. With products designed across the planet to leverage global resources, new models of collaboration area necessity. Forty years ago, engineers didn’t concern themselves with design for manufacturability, so collaboration with manufacturing engineering and plants wasn’t considered. Today, it is essential. Other changes include regulatory compliance, which is a growing challenge for most firms. I believe end of product life issues related to environmental issues will be the next crisis in manufacturing. What we want is“virtual co-location”… how can we create an environment that works across corporate sites, non-CAD smart business areas, joint ventures and suppliers, but with the advantages of ease of collaboration like that design room of 40 years ago?

The answer lies in leveraging IT investments and CAD assets. Using Acrobat 3D and harnessing the reach of the Free Adobe reader extended project teams can quickly, securely and cost effectively accelerate the design collaboration process. Extpensive, and complex CAD and visualization tools are not needed to reach beyond the current environment. Some would talk about tools “used to read a PDF”, and they would even suggest alternatives to the Adobe Reader. Well, comparing tools to read PDF’s to the Adobe Reader is an apples to oranges comparison. The simple truth is that Adobe Reader embodies considerable functionality such as view and comment collaboration, which is available to all users when enabled by the originator of the PDF. Acrobat 3D capability is no exception. The ability of a user to view, measure, section and respond to comments is of course fully supported in the Adobe Reader. The ubiquity of the reader, and its capability… hundreds of millions of copies distributed each year, is what makes this natural, people centric collaboration tick.

Acrobat 3D Thoughts

There is an old joke about a child who doesn’t speak until age 7. When mom serves liver and onions one evening, an out burst occurs, followed by questions about why silence until now. The childs anwser, “until now everything has been okay… ”

This is the first of what will be numerous entries on PLM, manufacturing and related subjects. The motivation for this entry is a recent article.

In his recent article in eZine article, “Adobe Translates From 3D CAD” Ralph Grabowski highlighted many of the features of the upcoming Acrobat 3D Version 8 product from Adobe. Ralph also provides a link to Blog.Novedge.com. We appreciate the interest paid to A3D, as we believe it will enable customers to leverage their investments in PLM tools to collaborate even more effectively. I thought it might be a good idea to expand upon some of Ralph’s and Franco Folini’s points and possibly clarify a couple of things along the way.

Interoperability Definition

There are probably dozens of ways to define “interoperability”. The way I think about A3D is as a tool to extend the reach of CAD assets and visualization beyond engineers and designers. In the end, it is still PDF, so where combining 2D and 3D assets into things like work instructions and bid packages is needed, Acrobat 3D really excels. Still, I wonder if there is a better word than “interoperability”. I know it is a better word for what we do than “translation”. Even in an ideal World, where everyone relied upon the same formats for CAD and visualization, there would still be numerous cases where non-CAD users would need to interact with the data. Of course this is not an ideal World, so A3D is interoperable in the sense that it allows assets to be leveraged regardless of the format in which the data was originally generated. It’s true that A3D will enable a level of translation, but translation is not the main point… A3D is not intended to replace other CAD translation tools. True, B-rep models, IGES and Step formats can be exported, but A3D won’t address CAD-to-CAD translation and certainly not the complexities of feature-based translations, parametrics and part families. Ask any of the thirty or so world-class engineers that came to Adobe from TTF.

What is the difference between U3D and PRC and what are the benefits of each?

Why PRC? Do we need another format? Are the import options and combinations confusing? Good questions.
The internal 3D formats in PDF are not going to affect the recipient of the PDF. In fact, the originator really controls the extraction and use of data at the other end. The originator of the PDF is simply thinking about the intended use of the data by the recipient. Questions like: Is precise measurement needed? Will it be used to machine something or simply as reference data? Could the data be used to reverse engineer my product? You see the point. That’s why we think those options are important. To enable precise geometry with great compression, we really needed PRC… that really helps in data transmission.

Is all this it confusing? Maybe, but people that we have spoken to don’t seem to think so. The response has been overwhelmingly positive. Besides, these are knowledge workers, with plenty of understanding and lots of capacity to learn. A3D has been shown to thousands of people at conferences and trade shows with no complaints about it being confusing. Of course there are default input settings for all of the formats, and even when users choose a custom path, most will settle on settings that they will use over and over.

Formats Supported

Ralph really nailed this. Supported formats aren’t a secret, but we have made information about them a bit hard to find. Supported CAD formats can be found in our Adobe’s support pages. I know, I know… how do I find those? We agree that this information can be made more visible, and it will be with release of version 8.
In the mean time, here’s the skinny on version 7: Acrobat 3D version 7 can import ~40 different 3D file formats including proprietary CAD formats like Catia V5, Catia V4, Solidworks, UGS NX, UGS IDEAS, ProEngineer, AutoCAD, Inventor, and Solidedge. Numerous neutral files like STEP, IGES, VRML, Parasolid, ACIS, JT and STL may also be read. Additionally, Acrobat 3D is bundled with the Acrobat 3D Toolkit which can read additional 3D file formats like 3D Studio MAX, Maya and Wavefront and these can be saved in the U3D file format and then inserted into PDF documents using Acrobat 3D. For a complete list of supported formats, please see the following document: http://www.adobe.com/support/techdocs/329371.html

Reader and A3D Version and compatibility

Okay, I admit it is a little confusing… let me try to clear up this misconception we have created. The real issue here is that A3D is out of phase with rest of family for now. Reader 8.1 will include the necessary features to support new features in A3D V8. We had this same problem when we released v7. Confusing, maybe… but key is download the latest Reader and everything will work.

Reader isn’t a translator

The Acrobat Reader 8.1 won’t be a translator. We have somehow created the impression that “you can use Reader for viewing CAD files: right-click a file name,
and then select Convert to Acrobat PDF”. The reader really is just that, a reader – it doesn’t do any conversion. You need Acrobat 3D for that. Once the updated Reader is released, it will display PMI [product maintenance information] data found in 3D CAD files, parts trees, and more. If enabled by an Acrobat 3D user, you can also use the free Reader to mark up and return 3D files. The key point here is, all the recipient needs is the reader to view any PDF, containing 3D data or not.

Reader not working?

Wow! The point about the reader working or not is interesting. We will investigate this and report back – this is the first I have heard of such issues with the Reader. Anyone else reporting similar problems?

Market Ahead – It’s is early in the game

Thanks to Ralph and Franco Folini’s for the positive comments and questions about how we might succeed. In the end, it will be customers who tell us where we are on target, and where we need to go next. Adobe has been focusing upon manufacturing since version 6 of Acrobat. We think we have learned a good deal about customer needs, but we are always listening for more