3D PDF has gained great popularity thanks to the free Adobe Reader’s ubiquitous presence (installed on 95% internet-connected computers according to 3D PDF Consortium in 2014). Its intuitive embedded 3D content viewable in Adobe Reader greatly lowers 3D data communication barriers between different platforms. Some manufacturers love it so much that they replaced 3D CAD models and 2D drawings completely with 3D PDF, which may work great in the future, but is still too early at this moment in many cases. Quite a few suppliers have been burned and now refuse to even take 3D PDFs any more. Let’s take a look at why.
- Downstream manufacturing applications can’t consume 3D PDF directly yet. For example, CAM software doesn’t read 3D model or PMI in 3D PDF for automatic programing yet. Consequently some machine shops had to manually rebuild CAD models according to 3D PDF, export STEP files, and then feed CAM, which not only prolonged cycle times and increased costs, but also introduced human remodeling errors. No wonder why shops didn’t like that. Same applies to CMM, 3D scanning, or Computer-aided Process Planning (CAPP). 3D PDF technology and the above applications’ support of 3D PDF are improving quickly, but at least for today, it’s more cost effective to send CAD models and STEP files along with the 3D PDF.
- As capable as it is in some circumstances, 3D PDF is a derivative, so it shouldn’t replace CAD model as the design authority. If a supplier can consume the native CAD format, that will be the best way to maintain data completeness and integrity. For example, some SOLIDWORKS customers require their suppliers to also use SOLIDWORKS for easier communication. We will expand on derivative validation and different 3D PDF technologies, such as U3D and PRC, in future posts. For now, let’s just keep in mind that if there is any disagreement between CAD model and 3D PDF, CAD should be the guideline, so it’ll be safer to send the CAD model along with derived 3D PDF and clarify that the CAD model is the single source of truth.
- During transition, over-communication is better than under-communication. Change is hard, so let’s take one step at a time. Defining 3D dimensions and tolerances internally is a solid first step already. In external collaboration, don’t suddenly replace everything the supply chain is used to with only a 3D PDF. Instead, maybe keep providing the usual documents, such as CAD models, STEP files, and even 2D drawings occasionally (which can be generated easily using 3D PMI). Then 3D PDF can be a nice facilitator for visual intuitive interpretation. Gradually, when everybody gets more familiar with 3D processes and fully appreciates the appropriate 3D PDF use cases, then it may be time to swap out non-essential documents such as 2D drawings. Again, the key point is to know your audience as each supplier is different and their transition curve is different too.
Now how to send all necessary files together? Here is a nice trick to assemble multiple files into one PDF package using Adobe Reader. That’s right, just the free Reader, you don’t need Adobe Acrobat to attach files to a PDF. An even better tip, as shared by Tim from Waters Corp., is to customize the 3D PDF layout to specifically call out a section for CAD file attachment shown in the image below.
I’d love to say 3D PDF can do everything for you, but the industry is not there yet. As technology evolves, I’ll keep you posted on new progress. For now, it’s still a safer bet to bundle all usual files with 3D PDF for the supply chain to save time, money, and reduce confusion. Next topic up is “Update infrastructure,” which is another sensitive topic because infrastructure is often perceived as capital-intensive. We will find out how it can be done in a cost-effective way, especially with the new hardware and software development in this age. To learn more about SOLIDWORKS MBD, please visit its product page. Also, I welcome discussion on this topic on Twitter (@OboeWu) or LinkedIn (OboeWu).