From 3D PDF to web-based content delivery: The next generation of engineering data collaboration has arrived
By: Scott Collins | Anark CTO and EVP of Product Development on September 13, 2021
When Adobe added 3D capabilities to the PDF format in 2005, many in the engineering software community considered it an answer to prayer. With a mouse click, a 3D CAD model could be inserted into a PDF and it is handled the same as all PDF's, able to be opened by any device with Adobe Reader, which amounts to over a billion devices. Many manufacturing companies adopted 3D PDF for delivering technical data packages (TDPs) that contained engineering designs and manufacturing work instructions. These TDPs were often bundled into a single PDF with tabular data and written instructions.
Design teams liked 3D PDF, and their IT departments loved it. There was no need to support yet another piece of software and many organizations, including the U.S. Government already had the standard capability to consume 3D PDFs.
Design and collaboration technology didn’t stop evolving with the introduction of 3D PDF. Model-based definition (MBD) practices and Model-based Enterprise (MBE) strategies led to CAD models that grew much larger in complexity and size over the years. It didn’t take long for PDFs containing 3D data to overwhelm corporate email servers, file shares, and individual computers. 3D PDF is adequate as a display technology but is limited as a compression technology. As a result, IT departments see their companies resorting to workarounds in order to use these massive 3D PDF files. While still very popular as a sharing format, 3D PDF struggles to deliver the same collaboration value for this new era of technical data complexity and collaboration.
Manufacturing is now moving from document-centric interaction to web services. Data is held in a central store and automatically kept current at all times. Documents and files are no longer the center of the information universe. Using file-less web services for content delivery, data packages can be generated automatically based on workflow triggers or on-demand as needed. The data is always current, and can be sent formatted to work well across all devices. Business rules can be easily set into place so only information required by any specific team member is delivered. There is no releasing of intellectual property indiscriminately just to make sure someone has the GD&T for the housing.
The U.S. DOD has been leading the charge in this next technical leap forward. Military standards are continuously being updated for the MBD/MBE era, including TDP standards that use the 3D PDF format for document based delivery. MIL-STD-31000B defines the requirements for a technical data package and defines a TDP as providing “an authoritative technical description of an item which is clear, complete, and accurate, and in a form adequate for its intended use.”
At the same time ASME has been refining a standard (ASME Y14.47) on model-based definition practices. AMSE says the new standard offers classifications to “enable interoperability among engineering information systems in model-based enterprises.”
These separate but connected updates from the standards world means manufacturing companies and their supply chains can now move to more efficient methods of creating, disseminating, and using engineering data. For companies who rely on 3D PDFs, there are options that improve on the document-centric 3D PDF approach. What’s important is to introduce a new file-less web-based system while supporting continued use of 3D PDFs; thus preventing a “rip and replace” scenario.
Anark is at the forefront of publishing engineering data to both 3D PDF and file-less web content for a manufacturing advantage. As an example, a major aerospace manufacturer is updating its engineering data exchange process with Anark Products, in part to eliminate the need to create difficult to manage documents. GE Gas Power found that their suppliers were needing special workstations to read many of the 3D PDFs GE were sending. Now suppliers use Anark Collaborate to automatically access GE defined TDPs, connecting not only project colleagues but creating a digital thread for secure access and visual collaboration.
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