Machinedesign 2728 Lg Softrev Sm 0

3D PDFs Boost Collaboration

Oct. 19, 2009
Adobe Acrobat 9 Pro Extended makes it easy to share 3D data.

The software comes from Adobe Systems Inc., 345 Park Ave., San Jose, CA 95110 (408) 536-6000

Edited by Leslie Gordon[email protected]

Our company, Alto Aviation, needed a way to securely and reliably store the large volume of designs and product information we generate daily. Archiving documents as native application files wasn’t feasible, given the variety of formats we handle including CAD, Microsoft Office, and standard image files. Adobe Acrobat 9 Pro Extended solved this problem by letting us convert almost any format to a PDF document for storage in our ERP application. Regardless whether a design was created last week or five years ago, files open reliably.

But this was just the beginning for us. Like other design and manufacturing firms, we must collaborate with customers and suppliers. We build high-fidelity audio systems for some of the aviation industry’s top companies, including Gulfstream Aerospace, Dassault Falcon Jet, Embraer, and Sikorsky, as well as provide audio-entertainment equipment for aftermarket firms that retrofit corporate jets. We routinely customize our products to each aircraft.

The software let us quickly move beyond simply managing materials in PDF to dynamic communication and collaboration. Most of our nontechnical customer contacts can’t open CAD files because they don’t have the right software so we just convert CAD data to PDF files which maintain the exact look of designs and contain manufacturing information such as geometric dimension and tolerance data. Files can be distributed more easily, and customers just need only Adobe Reader, an easily downloadable free utility.

More recently, our customers and internal teams have gone heavily to 3D models. Traditional approaches were problematic, because customers needed specialized viewing software or the large file sizes were difficult to send and receive. 3D support in Acrobat changed that. Now, we routinely convert 3D designs from Catia v5 and other CAD programs to highly compressed 3D PDF files that can be up to / th the size of designs in native files.

In addition, Acrobat lets recipients add digital comments to 3D files and interact more fully with designs. In fact, anyone using Adobe Reader 9 and later can view, save, and comment directly on designs. Customers can rotate the 3D PDF objects on screen, zoom in and out, and measure design components for exact specifications. The software also makes it easy to combine multiple 2D and 3D designs and supporting documents into one PDF Portfolio to provide all the information customers and suppliers need in a navigable file.

There is a dramatic difference between sending designs in 3D PDF versus on paper or as static digital files. Our customers and suppliers now have a 360° view of designs with all accompanying specification data, for faster and better decision making. For instance, in evaluating a 3D PDF model a customer might realize that a speaker no longer fits in its proscribed space due to changes in the cabin. Catching these kinds of problems early on goes a long way in cutting costs.

In all, the software has helped us cut product-development time by an average of 30%, and in some cases up to 90%. And our customer- response time is measured in hours or days, instead of in weeks as when the company delivered printed designs for review. Integrating PDF into the review processes also lets us better-protect designs. The software lets us limit access to authorized viewers by password protecting files.

There are a few enhancements to the software we would still like to see. Better integration between Acrobat and Kubotek KeyCreator, one of our CAD tools, would be great. In addition, the user interface could be more straightforward when initiating advanced security features. A more streamlined approach to applying security controls or even using tools to do things like view cross sections of designs would be appreciated.

Looking ahead, we plan on building interactive engineeringchange order forms in the software for an electronic way to review and approve designs. It’s no secret that managing these requests on paper is inefficient and difficult, especially when multiple copies go to different groups. Our marketing team could also benefit from the Flash support in PDFs. It lets documents include videos and more-interactive elements.

— Jim Gutterman

Jim Gutterman is the IT Director at Alto Aviation, Leominster, Mass.,

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