New Adobe software turns 3D CAD images into PDFs

With the release of Adobe Acrobat 3D, Adobe Systems Inc. is aiming to let manufacturers share 3D CAD images as easily as they share PDF files, by converting them to PDF files.

The product allows manufactures to convert 3D CAD (computer assisted design) generated images to a PDF (portable document format) file that can then be shared with downstream manufacturers and suppliers and opened with Acrobat Reader, keeping the benefits of a 3D model without investing in expensive CAD software.

Acrobat 3D also includes the capabilities of Adobe’s LiveCycle software to let companies tightly control the dissemination of the information and protect their intellectual property (IP).

Bahman Dara, Adobe’s senior product marketing manager, intelligent documents, said the protection of IP is a critical issue for major manufacturers like Boeing and General Motors that now outsource much of their manufacturing, often overseas. For example, Boeing’s 787-jetliner project will see just 14 pieces coming back to Boeing for final assembly, said Dara.

“They don’t want to send something to China for a piece to be built and then find there’s 17 different knock-off versions of it somewhere else,” said Dara.

The Acrobat 3D software will let the company set policies around what people downstream can do with the model, how long they’ll be able to access it, and even let the company revoke access rights to the file at any time.

In addition to protecting IP, Dara said sharing 3D models through Acrobat 3D can also save time and money during the design stage. Today, Dara said most of that discussion is done with what are essentially 2D screenshots, plus lots of meetings and focus groups as the proposed product is refined and developed.

He estimated 40 per cent of a project manager’s time is spent on actual design, while 60 per cent is spent answering questions from other departments within the company and potential external suppliers.

Dara said much of that wasted time can be eliminated by giving people a 3D model they can rotate and manipulate to get the view they need to contribute their part of the process.

“You get all the review and comment capabilities of Acrobat today with the ability to share 3D files,” said Dara.

Itasca Consulting Canada Inc., a Sudbury, Ont.-based mining industry consulting firm, has been a beta user of Acrobat 3D since September. Luigi Cotesta, Itasca’s director of geomechanics and scientific visualization, said the firm was previously using a product from a company that was acquired by Adobe, called Raider 3D.

Much of Itasca’s business involves helping mining companies understand how stress is distributed around deep excavations that can go down as far as 10,000 feet. The deeper underground, the higher the stresses.

“We have 3D numerical models that help us predict what the stresses will be around these excavations, and we can help give the mine confidence that these excavations are stable,” said Cotesta. “When you’re trying to do detailed analyses and a report where you need to explain the project in words, it’s greatly facilitated with the use of a 3D model that anyone can have a look at and rotate.”

While it is similar in purpose, Cotesta said Acrobat 3D offers a number of significant advantages over Raider 3D, such as easier insertion of CAD designs into Microsoft Word, Excel and PowerPoint files and easier downstream annotation and comment capabilities.

“Everybody knows Acrobat, and PDF is an international standard in terms of document sharing,” said Cotesta. “Just about everybody has the Adobe reader on their system, so there’s no need to go and get a special reader.”

Cotesta said in the mining industry 3D CAD products are quite unattainable for the everyday user, often costing up to US$30,000 and residing on a single machine, along with the CAD data. The programs are also quite sophisticated and require extensive training to use, when most users only need a few basic functions.

“I always say mining companies are data-rich but information-poor, in the sense they can’t readily take advantage of this [data],” said Cotesta. “This kind of technology really allows you to get the greatest return on your data investment.”

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