Adobe's 3D PDF is a fast, flexible and powerful single-solution tool which offers the user total collaboration across multiple platforms, says Charles Clarke.


has reached another software milestone with its 3D PDF software. Traditionally, manufacturing vendors focus on proprietary data formats and provide technologies that ensure customer 'lock in' — as opposed to universally open formats.

The 3D PDF reader has been available for about 18 months and Acrobat 3D was released in January. There are now 1.25 billion Adobe readers on the market. This is serious pull through for a 3D publishing format — the current run rate for readers is two million a week. You can enable a document for review and markup from within the free reader.

To create a PDF there is a technique called Capture which allows the capture of the OpenGL 3D display list stream which is sent to the video editor from within the CAD system. By simply pressing the Print Screen key all the model information and the meta data is captured — and you get an accurate PDF in about three seconds.

All the individual parts are captured so they can be subsequently switched off or deleted. Within this process there is intelligent filtering, so interface buttons and other peripheral paraphernalia are not captured. Any OpenGL application can generate a PDF.

Acrobat 3D's toolkit enables you to interact with the model, delete elements and apply material surfaces or textures, such as chrome, rubber and plastic.

You can also add animation, change lighting and even select the best 3D view and turn it into a shaded 2D image for placement within the document.

Interact 3D allows you to introduce interaction between the text in the document and the animation in the 3D model. In a service manual for instance, you can read text, click on it and get the animated 3D information displayed as you are carrying out a service procedure.

Another way to capture a 3D model is by using drag-and-drop into Acrobat 3D or by right clicking a file to bring it in. You don't necessarily need the native application that created the 3D information or even know which one it was. You just open a session and drag in the native model file — all the major CAD formats, even the more obscure ones, are supported.

When you drag the file, a dialogue box appears requesting the kind of conversion quality required. Typically if you select the default settings this gives approximately a 20:1 compression — a 25 MB Unigraphics file produces a 1.3 MB 3D PDF which can be e-mailed very easily.

Acrobat 3D is primarily a very usable and effective design review and collaboration tool. There are other similar tools available, but this is the first solution that brings the complete supply chain and all of the extended team on to the same page of the process. It is a singular solution, and for most contacts outside the engineering team it is the only collaboration format required.

Another important consideration is that the 3D reader is available across multiple platforms — including Mac and Linux. Regardless of platform and cost, Adobe can bring many more stakeholders into the collaboration process.

Now that more people have the opportunity to interact with a 3D model, confidentiality could become an issue. To help solve this, Adobe has come up with Policy Server, a unique intellectual property (IP) protection solution for the manufacturing market.

The recent acquisition of Navisware provided extensions to Policy Server that expanded digital rights management to non-PDF documents within an Adobe framework. So if a CAD file was distributed with a request for tender, and a particular company lost the bid, it would still have the file.

With Policy Server the originator of the file can essentially switch it off remotely. So even if it was removed to a home PC it could not be opened as access would have been revoked.

This facility is managed by Adobe; when the file is opened a permission request is sent to the company. if it is denied, the file is not opened and an 'access revoked' message is displayed. The 3D data can be contained in a PDF or a native CAD file — the IP protection facility works for all file types.

Policy Server protects document IP by providing a continuous and dynamic tether to the document. In addition, Adobe can track the remote actions on the document and also impose revision control so that if you tried to open a superseded document you would be instructed to download the latest version. This is an incredibly powerful feature in that errors are reduced right down the supply chain — irrespective of the level of technology of each individual company.

The 3D PDF can also contain electronic forms for all the tender information, so the supplier can complete the form in the PDF and just send it back to complete the tender process. This information can be sent directly to the originator's ERP system so that all submissions can be reviewed in one place.

Once a bid is selected, the originator can place an order from within the PDF and the procurement process is initiated within the ERP system. 3D PDF is a very powerful tool and is much more than a medium for communicating 3D data — it is a wide information transport mechanism for the entire enterprise.

The system also allows 3D information to be incorporated in Microsoft Office documents. With PowerPoint the whole presentation could be one 3D slide, or a number of slides examining various details or exploded configurations of a design.

Acrobat 3D is part of Adobe's plan to penetrate further into the 3D content market. It's clear with the acquisition of MacroMedia that the company has ambitions beyond portable document publishing.