Adobe Systems last week introduced a new document sharing software package aimed at the process of designing and building products. Customers were upbeat about this targeted version of Acrobat, which could supplant expensive CAD applications in manufacturing businesses.
Dubbed Acrobat 3D, 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 programs.
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 3D, 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 for one of the expensive, specialized design programs.
One company already using Acrobat 3D is Bradrock Industries, a midsize manufacturer specializing in custom plastic molding and toolmaking in Des Plaines, Ill.
Nick Butkovitch, IT manager at Bradrock, said that the product has already had a significant impact on 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," Butkovitch said.
The IT manager said Acrobat 3D 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.
By partnering with many of the CAD markets leading players, such as Autodesk and UGS, said Adobe Product Manager Rak Bhalla, the software makes it seem as if someone viewing the files in Acrobat 3D 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 3D, 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 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 3D offers several features aimed at helping companies speed up the design review process.
Documents created in the system can be shared among workgroups 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 among manufacturing partners working together.
Whereas such a 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 to a central file or for responses from large numbers of viewers to be combined into a single master file with all their individual annotations.
Acrobat 3D 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 goal was to create features that directly address specific challenges in the manufacturing industry, such as those of 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 life cycles 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 to the manufacturing sector.
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.
Acrobat flips in 3-D
Adobe teamed with CAD software makers to pull functionality into Acrobat.
CAD-like features allow
- Load 3-D images into PDF documents
- View and edit images in any Acrobat reader
- Rotate, magnify and cross-section images
- Isolate specific components within an image
- Post notes on specific areas on an image
- Combine notes from multiple users into master files