Adobe Systems introduced a new software package on Jan. 23 aimed at helping manufacturers create and share documents in the name of accelerating the process of designing and building products.
Dubbed as Acrobat 3-D, the system offers the ability for manufacturing companies to author, edit and distribute documents that offer many of the same functions available in todays engineering applications, such as those used in CAD (computer aided design) programs.
The package comes from Adobes Knowledge Worker business unit and is built on the same technological underpinnings used in the companys existing Acrobat products and Breeze collaboration software.
The business problem that Adobe is trying to solve with Acrobat 3-D is the morass of files and paperwork used by manufacturing companies to forward their product designs to partners, publishers and even their own workers.
Companies have long struggled with finding simple ways to share elements of their designs with other companies while protecting the intellectual property used in the products, and making those documents detailed enough to supply adequate levels of information for testing or pricing out manufacturing costs.
Using Acrobat 3-D, engineers can forward three dimensional images created in CAD programs that can be read by anyone with a current version of the freely available Acrobat reader, instead of necessitating a license to one of the expensive, specialized design programs.
By partnering with many of the CAD markets leading players, such as Autodesk Inc. and UGS Corp., said Adobe Product Manager Rak Bhalla, the software makes it seems as if someone viewing the files in Acrobat 3-D is using the actual programs the files were built in.
"No one is going to buy a CAD license for a product marketing team, or for use by technological publishers making product brochures or training manuals," Bhalla said.
"With 3-D, the person looking at the file can do almost anything someone using that sort of application can do, in terms of looking at a 3-D image, rotating it, zooming in on something or even taking a cross section."
The package also gives manufacturing companies the ability to control which elements of a design might, or might not be shared in such a document, making it harder in theory for rivals or partners to copy specifics from files distributed for various business purposes.
In addition, Acrobat 3-D offers a number of features aimed at helping companies speed up the design review process.
Documents created in the system can be shared among work groups and allow workers to make notes on a certain part of a CAD image, simplifying the process of communications between product designers and quality assurance workers, or manufacturing partners working together.
Whereas such process previously necessitated many different communications or the integration of multiple documents generated by different recipients, the new application allows for notes to be added directly a central file, or to combine responses from large numbers of viewers into a single master file with all their individual annotations.
Acrobat 3-D also promises to help manufacturers pull together reports that include different types of documents, such as spreadsheets, other text documents and CAD files, creating a binder of the data with a single interface.
Adobes Bhalla said another major effort with the software was to create features that directly address specific jobs in the manufacturing industry, such as product inspectors who may be asked to approve or deny certain designs without ever seeing them rendered outside the electronic world.
"Our PDF products are already entrenched well within manufacturing, but we wanted to see if we can get even deeper," said Bhalla.
"These companies have key competitive challenges including shrinking product lifecycles and the demand to reduce costs, while remaining innovative, that havent really been supported sufficiently by IT."
Bhalla said that Adobe isnt planning to go head-to-head with rivals such as enterprise applications giants SAP or Oracle which already sell complex automation programs into the manufacturing sector.
The executive said that Adobe is already partnering with those firms and sees Acrobat 3-D as complimentary technology to their products, rather than competition for them.
One company already using Acrobat 3-D is Bradrock Industries, a midsize manufacturer specializing in custom plastic molding and tool making that is based in Des Plains, Ill.
Nick Butkovich, IT manager at Bradrock, said that the product has already made a significant impact in simplifying the companys ability to create and share design documents with partners.
Specifically, Butkovitch said that the ability to share detailed images while protecting them against being copied or stolen has provided an immediate benefit to the company.
"We can send something for markup approval to a customer or partner but lock it down so theres no real data to take in terms of intellectual property," Butkovitch said.
"We used to send prints, drawings or CAD drawings that someone could get fine details from, and that burned us a few times; now we know nothing is heading to China behind our backs."
The IT manager said Acrobat 3-D has simplified his own job by eliminating the need to integrate different types of file formats used by other companies for editing or reviewing designs.
Since anyone with a free Acrobat reader can look at, and manipulate the CAD files, he said, theres almost no more need for such legwork.
Bradrock is also using the software as part of its training process for new employees who may not yet know how to work with CAD.
"You could do a lot of this work before on your own, and make a PDF of it, but that was a much more complex process," Butkovitch said. "This cuts down on time because it makes for a simpler process all around and cuts down on miscommunications that lead to rejected designs."