Put 3D designs in PDF

July 13, 2006
Sharing product designs at our company once meant taking 2D grabs of 3D models and sending these to project teams, suppliers, and customers.

— Nick Butkovich

An original 3D model converted to an Adobe PDF file lets reviewers rotate an injectionmolded part to view the design from different angles. This lets companies catch problems earlier in the design cycle, which helps to reduce costs and accelerate product development.

The cloud tool lets a reviewer highlight an area of the 3D design of the injection-molded part to provide feedback for proper machining.

An exploded view lets reviewers see small details that otherwise could be overlooked. Users can add concise feedback directly on the file without altering the underlying original design.

Acrobat 3D lets users take a cross sectionof designs to give project team members better insight on specific elements. Reviews can rotate and magnify the cross section of the injection-molded part.

We came up with this compromise because not all groups have CAD software and when they do, it's often not the right package. Still, our engineers were spending too much time on the phone answering customer questions because the 2D screenshots don't allow viewing the back of a design, checking clearances, or seeing design size and thickness.

Acrobat 3D eliminates the hassle by letting us convert in-house SolidWorks and AutoCAD models to Adobe PDF documents. Users need only drag the 3D CAD model into the Adobe Acrobat window and save the design as a PDF file. Anyone with the free, downloadable Adobe Reader 7.0 can then view the 3D designs (without requiring CAD software or proprietary viewers) and participate in reviews.

The latest Adobe Reader lets recipients rotate 3D objects onscreen for a better look at all components. This is particularly important for our Engineering and Quality Control (QC) department. Our company takes quality seriously and is ISO-9000 certified. QC personnel use the Adobe Reader to compare original designs with manufactured parts to help make sure there are no discrepancies. And extended team members can measure parts and dimensions such as distance and radius.

When enabled by Acrobat 3D, the Reader now lets users add electronic comments to 3D objects in PDF. Tools for marking up documents include digital highlighters, pens, callouts, clouds, and dimension lines. The tools are easy to use. The annotation tool, for example, comes in handy when sending 3D design information to suppliers. By adding electronic notes on areas to give dimensions or descriptions of how something is assembled, suppliers have fewer questions and provide more accurate bids on the first try. The tools in Reader provide reviewers an effective way to give clear, concise feedback without having to purchase the full version of Acrobat. This simplifies collaboration and lets more team members participate.

The full version also boosts collaboration because it lets users combine multiple file types into a single PDF package. For example, we attach statisticalprocess-control information in spreadsheets and approvals on purchase orders to 3D designs in PDF. Putting multiple file types into a single, compact digital binder like this is an effective way to minimize miscommunication.

We also exploit the full version's review-tracking capabilities to track the personnel, partners, and customers that provide feedback as well as the input they provide.

Equally important to collaboration is keeping intellectual property secure. When sending designs for review or to manufacturing plants in Asia, we avoid sending native files. They make it easier to copy design ideas and are subject to tampering, which can result in unnoticed, costly design changes. Acrobat 3D lets us apply security controls to password-protect documents, limit documents to "view only" status (so changes can't be made), and prevent recipients from copying, or even printing documents.

Our short wish list of improvements includes a less-cluttered, more-intuitive user interface. It's not always readily apparent to unfamiliar users how to add comments linked to specific areas of 3D designs, or create animations to accompany designs. We'd also like to see smaller file sizes. Even though 3D designs in PDF are much smaller than their counterparts in native applications, it would be great to see yet smaller files that travel faster over networks and require less space to manage.

Overall, we've had good experiences with Acrobat 3D. Our customers like getting designs as 3D objects in PDF because they are easy to view from all angles. This helps improve our client relationships and customer service. What's more, the software has helped us shorten a few design review cycles by as much as 50%.

Adobe Acrobat 3D comes from Adobe Systems Inc., San Jose, Calif., adobe.com

Nick Butkovich is project manager, Bradrock Industries, Des Plaines, Ill., a manufacturer of plastic moldings and assemblies. The company produces a wide range of molds for high-end automotive parts, dental devices, and fixtures for robots on manufacturing lines.

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