Full collaboration aided by interactive models

Adobe 3D version 8 is a tool that is likely to become ubiquitous in engineering collaborations



Just as Adobe Acrobat and PDFs have become the universally preferred way of sending document pages around the world, especially when they incorporate large graphic images, the company’s latest offering is likely to do the same for engineering 3D models and designs.

Whereas conventional PDF documents are 2D, and Adobe Acrobat 7 3D introduced the idea of incorporating 3D models that could be seen in 3D, Adobe Acrobat 8 3D transmits models that can not only be panned and zoomed, but come with feature trees and full Product Manufacturing Information, either attached to the feature tree, or to the model, if that was how they were generated.

The most striking visual aspect of sample version 8 3D models we have seen is that the user can click on parts to select them or toggle housing transparency, or manipulate them just as if they were a native 3D CAD model. It is also possible to include animations and exploded views. The complicated tractor transmission downloadable from the company’s website includes all these features and we were able to open it on a far from new laptop in a few seconds. There was no need even to download a new free reader. Like most PC and Macs operating in the world, the latest Adobe Acrobat reader was already installed on it.

The new 3D model breakthrough capabilities comes about because Adobe purchased Trade and Technologies France in April 2006. This gave them access to a novel file compression technology called PRC. Stephen Partridge, business development manager for Acrobat told us, “I have seen it reduce files sizes from 60MB to 300K. It can also support really big assemblies. The support for U3D is also still there. We have at the same time made these files three times more compressed and twice as quick”.

How small the user makes the files of course depends on how finely detailed they want the model to be. “You have absolute choice of how accurate you want the model to be” in Partridge’s words. But it is the ability to include manufacturing information such as tolerances, measurements and notes about manufacturing procedures that is probably most important. As he says, “This is an opportunity not to have to send 2D drawings”.

It also inter operates with formats such as Parasolid, IGES and STEP. Partridge described it as a, “Pretty low cost way of sending STEP information” as well as working with formats such as Catia V4 and V5, I-Deas 12, PTC’s Wildfire 3, UGS NX4 and Inventor 10. Other formats listed are: 3D Studio Max, 3DXML, Autodesk DWF, Autodesk DXF, AutoCAD DWG, ACIS, CADDS, CGR, Jupiter Technology (UGS), Lattice XVL, OneSpace, PRC, Solidworks, STL, VRML, LightWave, Microstation, Rhinoceros, Right Hemisphere, Softimage XSI, and Wavefront.

It is also possible to make screen captures from UNIX applications. There is no need to purchase special Adobe add-ons from the original CAD vendors. Provided Adobe Acrobat 3D is on the same machine, a right click on the model being shown on the screen normally opens up an Adobe hot window. Or, files can be brought into Adobe files by dragging model file icons into an Acrobat window.

Should one use a CAD package not on the above list that uses its own proprietary model format – there are one or two such out there – it is possible either to do a screen capture, or export in one of the formats that is on the list. Even Google Sketchup (Pro version) allows model export as DWF files.

Information is of no benefit unless it can be used, and as well as view and markup, it is also possible to take one of the models, create a view, turn it into an Adobe Illustrator file and use it produce a technical publication. Alternatively, the model can be turned into a U3D file, and then dropped into Adobe Acrobat Pro or 3D for onward transmission. It is also possible to build in animations and explosions using scripting that can be driven through text interaction.

One of the driving forces behind the general adoption of 2D Adobe Acrobat PDF files was that they do not allow the recovery and re-use of original art work so originators of magazine and newspaper pages can retain control of their copyright.

With 3D CAD models, which can include huge amounts of intellectual property, the issue of sending information to suppliers, customers, and sub contractors is even more crucial, especially with the growing popularity of sub contracting to companies in the Far East who may have different ethics standards from those Western companies are accustomed to dealing with.

Sending a full CAD model to China complete with every manufacturing detail that would allow a local company to clone it as a product would seem to be the height of foolishness. Many compressed formats used to transmit model data possess much of the original data that was used to create them, which can if the recipient is half clever, be recovered. It has never been possible to reverse engineer Adobe Acrobat files in this way and is up to user to decide exactly what should and what should not be included.

Partridge said that if sending model data outside a company, “You need to think hard about what you are going to send. Sending native files is really scary. You may decide that you want to convert to a lower resolution or remove hidden parts. You might want to save as polygons. You can then in addition use security features such as password control and encryption that come with Acrobat. You can also use our policy server”. Even if the Acrobat file has been sent out on a CD, built in software can force the model “To touch the policy server whenever it is opened or printed”. This means that unless authorised people are accessing the model, and it is on a date before the set revocation date they cannot access it”. Once access has been revoked, encryption keys will not match and opening the file will be well beyond the capabilities of a normal business.

Version 8-3D is still in beta phase at time of writing, with shipping set to begin in “Spring 2007”. Companies interested in early purchase are currently being encouraged to install Version 7-3D, with a free option to upgrade as soon as 8-3D is released. Renault has recently purchased 5000 seats under this arrangement. Adobe Acrobat 3D is described as a “Superset of Adobe Acrobat Professional” so it includes all the facilities available in Adobe Acrobat Professional.

Pointers

* New format allows the transmission of full 3D models, including manufacturing information, with as much or as little content as the sender chooses to give them

* File compression can be up to 100:1 or more

* The readers are free and the vast majority of PCs and Macs already have them installed

Author
Adobe

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