August 27, 2007
Product Review: Adobe Acrobat 3D V8
Please note that contributed articles, blog entries, and comments posted on MCADcafe.com are the views and opinion of the author and do not necessarily represent the views and opinions of the management and staff of Internet Business Systems and its subsidiary web-sites.
| by Jeff Rowe - Contributing Editor
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Moving PDFs From Publishing to Manufacturing
Over the years a number of software products that began and succeeded in one market attempted to cross over to other market segments with widely varying results. Some did quite well, some did OK, and some failed miserably. The difficulty lies in the different demands and expectations inherent in different market segments, not to mention different requirements and workflows. Adobe Acrobat 3D Version 8 is one of the more recent and prominent software packages trying to translate the success it has enjoyed in the publishing world to mechanical engineering/design/manufacturing and associated CAD. Let’s take a brief look at how Adobe has fared so far with Acrobat 3D V8, but first a
Although it’s called version 8, this new version is actually only the second one focused on CAD data, but offers a very comprehensive suite of tools and utilities for converting 2D and 3D models to the universally-used PDF format.
The first version of Acrobat 3D was based on Intel’s U3D open format for handling 3D data, but it quickly proved to not be the most efficient or accurate way to go, because it was a tessellated approximation of a model that had to be captured and converted into a U3D-enabled PDF file. To accomplish this, Adobe had to license technology and buy a company, but Adobe soon discovered that U3D did not enjoy very widespread industry support and large converted data sets were really not that much smaller than they began, so why put forth the effort for such a relatively small return.
The second (and current) version, based on Acrobat Version 8, Adobe, however, is a totally different story, largely through the acquisition of TTF, a CAD file format translation company whose technology is a highly compressed, but accurate format called PRC. Adobe incorporated the PRC format and the translators into the new version of Acrobat 3D. U3D hasn’t gone totally away as it remains in the software for creating what Adobe terms “technical documents” and animations, but it’s the PRC technology that does the heavy lifting this time around for model translation for the manufacturing community. Adobe claims that the resulting translated data is so accurate that it
could actually be used for machining. We’ll put that claim to the test later.
As with any software product, the UI is literally the first thing you see, and the Version 8 interface of Acrobat has been improved. For example, when it launches, there are a number of options that let you choose the type of workflow that best suits your needs, ranging from creating a PDF and combining model files to launching a Web-based Adobe “Connect” session for shared interactive design reviews.
Overall, the UI is easier to use, more functional, just plain better looking than in the past, and navigation is more straightforward, all primarily due to the fact that the UI is so graphical. The main display area is where the model document is displayed. The UI also contains a model tree with a feature tree, stored views, and object properties. Tabs provides access to multi-pages, bookmarked sections, and digital signatures that have been added to a document.
To get started, all you have to do is click “Create 3D PDF,” and you’re on your way.
Import and Export
Until Version 8, getting CAD data into Acrobat was something of a chore because the company had to rely on licensed and purchased components from other parties. That’s changed, though, and now Acrobat 3D has integrated translators for MCAD packages of all levels, although Autodesk’s Inventor is not part of the mix this time around, but I’m sure that will be addressed and resolved shortly
Some of the supported MCAD file formats include the following applications:
CATIA V4 and V5
Solid Edge (part only)
When importing models into Acrobat 3D, you can select and/or deselect solids, surfaces, wireframes, hidden objects, and construction/reference geometry. There are also options for choosing the file format for storing the model within the PDF, including B-rep, tessellated, and U3D, as well as some combinations.
In its marketing collateral, Adobe claims that after the conversion process was complete, U3D averaged about 10% of the original file size. Tessellation’s were 5% of the original file size and B-Reps should come in around 3% of the original file size (but within 0.01mm tolerance of the original). Reduced file size is important, but just as important is accuracy and maintaining tolerances, and in this release Adobe hopes to prove that Acrobat doesn’t just import geometry, it’s actually capturing valuable information that can be used for manufacturing, as well.
On the other side of the equation, this version of Acrobat 3D can export models to a variety of standard industry formats, such as STEP, IGES, Parasolid, and VRML. Surprisingly, there is no STL export at this time, but I’m sure that will change down the road. Depending on what the output will be used for, each export format has options that can be set with regard to such things as analytics and faces. For at least some level of security, this feature works only when file protection is not attached to a model.
A Simple Example
Although I am familiar with a number of MCAD applications, for the purposes of this review I chose to use SolidWorks 2007 in conjunction with Adobe Acrobat 3D. In this scenario, I’ll be evaluating the two products as a data exchange environment. With this product mix, you actually have three options for converting a SolidWorks model to a PDF. Option 1, with SolidWorks 2007, you can save a model as a 3D PDF directly from within SolidWorks. Option 2 is to open a SolidWorks part or assembly (no drawings, though) directly from within Acrobat 3D. You can also import a SolidWorks model into Acrobat 3D that was saved as Parasolid, STEP, CATIA, Pro/ENGINEER, Universal 3D (U3D), or VRML.
While file size does definitely matter, generally, you will realize better results by importing models into directly into Acrobat 3D. For my evaluation I used several assemblies with part numbers ranging from around 30 to over 12,000. After some experimenting for optimizing the process, for the smaller assemblies, I used files that were exported from SolidWorks as Pro/ENGINEER and Parasolid formats. For the largest assemblies, files were saved directly out of SolidWorks; both as an assembly (.sldasm) and as a 3D PDF.
Conversion times are largely but not exclusively dependent on the assembly size, and optimizing an assembly is an integral part of the process, but more about that a little later. After optimization and conversion, most of my files shrank in size (some considerably) from the originals, but not all. All of the conversion times seemed acceptable and tolerable to me, probably owing to the quality of the TTF translators. You can optimize things by only converting assemblies comprised of unique parts, and not including every fastener, as that really can slow things down. Yes, I could have used simpler parts, but I really wanted to see what Acrobat 3D V8 could do in the real world, hence my using
Be forewarned, however, that loading a native SolidWorks file with some conversion settings (such as surfaces) can require an inordinately long time for converting large assemblies, or the application would crash. I did also notice a decrease in conversion performance for larger assembly files. File conversion works best for larger files, but some that were over a threshold not only started to bog down, they actually produced PDFs that were larger than the original files. After a little trial and error, I found that using the PRC conversion setting as the default helped things along quite dramatically.
To further the cause of using the conversion process, saving an assembly from within SolidWorks usually resulted in a PDF that was about twice the size of the original file. The conclusion here is to export from SolidWorks in one of the file formats that Acrobat 3D can import and go from there.
Once converted to PDFs, I was impressed with the section view capabilities and the accuracy of the measurements that were possible. There are a lot of options for views and they can be saved for later use. The rendering and mark-up tools are also versatile and useful.
It’s pretty evident that a lot of thought and work have gone into Acrobat 3D on several different levels – from the user interface to raw functionality. This could very well be the “production-ready” product that propels Acrobat out of its historic documentation market and into true engineering collaboration and the manufacturing market.
When using it with SolidWorks, probably the biggest drawback is that Acrobat 3D cannot handle drawings, but that’s OK – that’s what eDrawings is for. If nothing else, Acrobat 3D V8 makes a valiant attempt of bringing some sanity and standardization to the mess of securely passing MCAD documents around a collaborative environment. Is this the ultimate solution for dealing with the MCAD file format and visualization problem? On the one hand, no, it’s not perfect and there are other players who do something roughly analogous for specialized purposes. On the other hand, yes, largely because of the ubiquity and acceptance of the Acrobat Reader. More than anything, though,
it’s a start, and a welcome beginning to those who have to deal with myriad MCAD file formats for myriad users. Adobe did this years ago with PostScript for documents. Maybe it can repeat its success with Acrobat 3D, supplanting IGES and STEP with a compact file formats.
In a nutshell, below are some of the aspects of Adobe Acrobat 3D Version 8 that I experienced:
The ability to create and send a PDF of a model instead of model files containing intellectual property and/or proprietary information
The model PDF is read-only with the ubiquitous Acrobat Reader
Imports native SolidWorks, STEP, and Parasolid well
Level of output detail and accuracy can be set – U3D faceted (optimized performance) or PRC (greater tolerances and accuracy)
Ability to export a solid from a PDF
Adding comments and marking-up models Model rotating, highlighting, and changing color
Possible problems with large assemblies
Drawings cannot be imported
Rotating models can be challenging
Zooming can fail if zoomed in too close
Security capabilities are limited. For example, measure function cannot be disabled.
Some Parasolid imports placed parts in incorrect positions relative to origin of original model
Surfaces are sometimes imported when function is turned off
Pricey - twice as expensive as Adobe Acrobat 8.0 Professional
$995 for the full version; $295 for upgrade from the previous version of Acrobat 3D; $545 for upgrade from Acrobat 8.0 Professional.
The Week’s Top 5
At MCADCafé we track many things, including the stories that have attracted the most interest from our subscribers. Below are the five news items that were the most viewed during last week.
3D CAD Downloads Drive Purchases and Supplier Selection
Catalog Data Solutions (CDS) announced the results of a user survey conducted for J.W. Winco, Inc. CAD download customers. J.W. Winco Inc. provides a comprehensive selection of quality metal and plastic, metric and inch size standard machine components and assembly hardware. “Since implementing the CDS CAD solution in February of 2006, we are already seeing an average of over 850 downloads/month from our 18,000 CAD model library,” said John Winkler, J.W. Winco CEO, Office of the President. ”We and CDS wanted to find out what those CAD download customers thought – our survey revealed many insights and we’re delighted to share some of these:”
On average designers said that nearly half of downloaded 3D-CAD models result in at least one order for that part.
3D-CAD models save design time for 95% of designers (on average over ¾ hour per model and 9% of their total annual design time).
For 94% 3D-CAD model downloads help ensure design accuracy and minimize CAD errors.
For 82% downloadable 3D-CAD models get their designs to market faster.
75% thought that 3D-CAD model downloads are important, very or extremely important in their selection of a supplier.
If a vendor doesn’t offer 3D-CAD downloads – at least 40% of designers will search for an equivalent part from another vendor that does offer CAD downloads.
AutoForm Engineering GmbH, a supplier of software for sheet metal forming industry, announced a new release of EasyBlank, with enhancements specifically for meeting the requirements of the US market. EasyBlank calculates a developed blank outline from imported 3D CAD part geometry, using AutoForm-OneStep simulation technology. Material optimization and nesting layout are also calculated, making the software particularly useful at the quotation stage of a project. EasyBlank is free to download and use, and users of the software need only purchase the results they choose, making it attractive tool for both tool and die shops and stamping companies alike. Users who purchase their
results online also receive a detailed report that contains information on material consumption, thinning distribution of the part, blank outline and optimal nesting layout. EasyBlank provides users with an early cost analysis, allowing the minimization of material costs and material usage and scrap.
CAE Unveils New Modelling and Simulation Software Company
CAE unveiled Presagis, its new modeling and simulation software company. CAE combined its acquisitions of Engenuity Technologies, MultiGen-Paradigm, TERREX, and an existing CAE commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) software team, to create an independent, company specializing in COTS modeling and simulation software. By offering a unified product portfolio, Presagis will simplify the procurement and support of COTS modeling and simulation software for the aerospace and defense industries.
DesignCAD 3D MAX V18 Released
IMSI/Design released DesignCAD 3D Max. v18, targeted for those users requiring professional CAD at consumer prices. DesignCAD 3D Max v18 contains a number of new features and performance enhancements that include Smart Menus, Grouping Tools and Auto-fit Docked Toolboxes, which boost productivity by providing faster navigation and tool selection. Visualization has been improved by integrating rendering capabilities, new gradient fills, and new animation and walkthrough capabilities. The latest version also includes improved DWG/DXF compatibility, hatching, and Paper Space options. DesignCAD 3D Max v18 is available directly from IMSI/Design and is priced for retail at $99.95 in the
OneSpace Modeling Certified for Windows Vista
CoCreate Software announced that CoCreate OneSpace Modeling has received the Certified for Windows Vista logo. By meeting the standards of the Certified for Windows Vista logo program, CoCreate's OneSpace Modeling delivers better performance and enhanced security on PCs running the Windows Vista operating system. CoCreate OneSpace Modeling will now carry the Certified for Windows Vista logo, and deliver a premium Windows Vista experience.
By achieving the Certified for Windows Vista status, CoCreate OneSpace Modeling:
Is independently tested for compatibility and functionality on Windows Vista-based PCs.
Provides enhanced security by implementing Microsoft security guidelines.
Meets privacy standards set forth by the Anti-Spyware Coalition.
Ensures compatibility with 32-bit and 64-bit editions of Windows Vista.
Only Certified for Windows Vista software and devices have undergone Microsoft compatibility tests for ease of use, better performance, and enhanced security on PCs running the Windows Vista operating system.
Jeffrey Rowe is the editor of
and MCAD Weekly Review. He can be reached at
Product Review: Adobe Acrobat 3D V8
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-- Jeff Rowe, MCADCafe.com Contributing Editor.