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June 5, 2009

Filed under: CAD/CAM/CAE — Terry Wohlers @ 17:37

You may be familiar with Adobe’s 3D PDF. I was not until a couple years ago. What I’ve learned is that it has come a long way in a short time. Some major organizations are beginning to use it as their standard method of communication with suppliers and others.

A 3D PDF lets you view a CAD model in 3D. You can zoom, pan, and rotate a solid model, even an entire assembly, and it’s fast. It supports transparency and other modes of shading and rendering. Acrobat Pro Extended is needed to create a 3D PDF, but only the free Acrobat Reader software is required to view and manipulate the 3D model data.

I attended an intriguing keynote presentation by Christopher Senesac of Boeing Rotocraft Systems, makers of the V-22 Osprey and AH-64 Apache vertical lift military aircraft. Senesac presented at last month’s Collaboration & Interoperability Conference in Estes Park, Colorado. I had no idea that a Boeing company was using 3D PDF documents at the level described by Senesac. The company uses it for internal collaboration, requesting quotes, and communication with suppliers and customers. It also uses them for technical illustration and manuals. As partners, Adobe and Penn State University are helping Boeing Rotocraft learn and integrate 3D PDF documents with CATIA V5. 

I was also surprised to learn that it’s possible to manufacture from a 3D PDF. The file format preserves the data and mathematical accuracy of a CAD model for precision machining. As an option, you can export an STL file from a 3D PDF for additive manufacturing. David Prawel, organizer of the CIC conference and an industry expert in CAD data exchange and interoperability, explained to me that a PDF can now contain any data, including 2D drawings with annotations, dimensions, and geometric dimensioning and tolerancing (GD&T). Prawel went on to say that it carries a full solid model (BREP) and exports STEP (AP203) and IGES.

I’m looking forward to learning more about what Boeing Rotocraft and others are doing with the PDF format. It could become a popular method for product data/information exchange, communication, prototyping, and manufacturing. If you have experience with it, I would like to hear from you.